Community, Public Health

Toxic wastes take toll on ‘healthy years of life’ of people in India, Indonesia and the Philippines

More than 8 million people in India, Indonesia and the Philippines live under constant exposure to toxic wastes, a study found.

Focusing on the impact to health of 373 toxic wastes sites researchers found that the economic opportunities lost because of premature deaths or disabilities incurred by the people due to the hazardous wastes is comparable, if not higher, to those caused by well-known diseases and other environmental risk factors.

By calculating the disability-adjusted life years (DALY), a measure of overall disease burden used by the World Health Organization (WHO), researchers were able to determine healthy years of life lost due to illness, disability or premature death. One DALY is equivalent to one year of healthy life loss by a person, which represents opportunities in life destroyed forever due to failing health or death.

The study revealed that toxic wastes sites are responsible to 828,722 DALYs or 828,722 years of life full health lost due the effects of toxic wastes exposures.

Furthermore, children or women of childbearing age constituted for 60% of the affected population. With many toxic chemicals affecting brain development in children and unborn babies, researchers insisted that children and women of childbearing age are considered to be most vulnerable. Heavy metals such as lead and cadmium, pollutants found to be of high concentration in the sites tested, are known to affect brain development in children and unborn babies. Other chemicals have debilitating effects on kidneys and livers, while several others, such as chromium and asbestos, cause cancer.

Result of the study emphasized the need for a concrete step to control the ill effects of pollution to human health, researchers said. Environmental remediation of toxic waste sites was recommended in order to remove the pollutants and rehabilitate the environment. While completely eliminating exposure to toxic wastes may be impossible, remediation of would help minimize amount of toxic chemicals on these site and reduce exposure.

Toxic wastes sites around the world are not only detrimental to the environment, but also to health. While global concern is growing, assessments on how these sites affect the health of communities around them is still limited or lacking in many developing countries. The study provided a rich resource for policymakers on how to manage toxic wastes sites and help affected communities.


Reference:Chatham-Stephens K, Caravanos J, Ericson B, Sunga-Amparo J, Susilorini B, Sharma P, Landrigan PJ, Fuller R. (2013). Burden of disease from toxic waste sites in India, Indonesia, and the Philippines in 2010. Environmental Health Perspectives. 121(7):791-6.