Toxic waste sites with elevated levels of lead and chromium
cause a high number of "healthy years of life lost" in individuals
living near 373 sites located in India, Philippines and Indonesia, according to
a study by a Mount Sinai researcher published online in Environmental Health Perspectives.
The study leader, Kevin Chatham-Stephens, MD, Pediatric
Environmental Health Fellow at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai,
presented the findings at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting
in Washington, DC.
"Lead and hexavalent chromium proved to be the most
toxic chemicals and caused the majority of disease, disability and mortality
among the individuals living near the sites," said Dr Chatham-Stephens,
How the research was
The study titled, "The Burden of Disease from Toxic
Waste Sites in India, Indonesia, and the Philippines in 2010," was a joint
research partnership between Mount Sinai and the Blacksmith Institute. Eight
chemicals were sampled and collected at the toxic waste sites in 2010. The
samples were then measured for pollutant levels in the soil and water and then
compared with the 8 629 750 individuals who were at risk of exposure around
these sites in order to calculate the loss of years of equivalent full health.
Researchers calculated healthy years of life lost due to
ill-health, disability or early death, in disability-adjusted life years
(DALY), a measure of overall disease burden used by the World Health
Organization. One DALY represents the loss of one year of equivalent full
In this study, the total number of lost years of full health
or DALYs was 828 722. In comparison, malaria in the same countries caused 725 000
lost years of full health, and outdoor air pollution caused 1.4 million lost
years of full health in 2008, according to Dr. Chatham-Stephens.
"The number of DALYs estimated in our study potentially
places toxic waste sites on par with other major public health issues such as
malaria and outdoor air pollution which are also causing a high number of
healthy years of life lost," said Dr. Chatham-Stephens.
A ‘huge’ health
"This study highlights a major and previously
under-recognized global health problem in lower and middle income
countries," said Philip Landrigan, MD, MSc, Dean for Global Health at the
Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and one of the authors of the study.
"The next step is targeting interventions such as cleaning up the sites
and minimizing the exposure of humans in each of these countries where toxic
chemicals are greatly present."
Additionally, children and women of child-bearing age made
up two-thirds of the population in the study. "If a woman is pregnant, the
foetus may be exposed to these toxic chemicals," said Dr.
Chatham-Stephens. "This data is relevant because the prenatal to early
childhood period is the time when individuals are very vulnerable to some toxic
exposures, such as lead's impact on the developing nervous system."
Previous studies have shown that lead can cause
neurological, gastrointestinal and cardiovascular damage, while those also
exposed to high levels of chromium have a greater chance of developing lung
cancer. "Our research shows that chemical pollutants from toxic waste
sites are insufficiently studied in lower and middle income countries and that
disease and death caused by these chemicals can contribute to loss of
life," said Dr. Chatham-Stephens.