Pure Earth pollution experts from around the world recently gathered in New York to share updates on the progress being made solving pollution problems in their home communities and in countries spread out over five continents.
The event, held at the Permanent Mission of Canada to the UN, offered Pure Earth friends and supporters in New York a chance to hear directly from the frontlines.
Pollution is not well recognized, but has an enormous impact
Pure Earth President Richard Fuller opened the dialogue reminding the audience about the scope of the problem – that pollution is the largest environmental cause of premature death and disease in the world today.
On top of that, he told the audience that additional research done since the publication of the groundbreaking Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health, which Fuller co-chaired, showed that 1/3 of all children on the planet have dangerous levels of lead in their bodies.
Our Mexico-based team member, Daniel Estrada, who oversees our programs in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, began by asking the audience if they liked Mexican food. Of course, every hand in the room went up. His next question got the exact opposite response.
“Raise your hands if you like lead in your food.”
That was the point Daniel was trying to make. In Mexico, “we eat a lot of lead because of pottery.”
How much of the traditional pottery produced in Mexico (and used in many homes and restaurants) is lead free? Watch the video to find out, and listen to Daniel tell the story of Baby X, who was born with a blood lead level of 40 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL)! The CDC recommends health intervention at levels above 5 µg/dL–the newborn Baby X was eight times over that limit.
Brazil: South To south cooperation
In Brazil, Daniel explained how they encountered the same problem with leaded pottery. He showed the audience a plate that was the first lead-free pottery made by a community in Brazil because of a “south to south cooperation.” Daniel explained, “It was Mexican technology that was brought to Brazil.”
Peru: “We have a rainforest, and then we don’t.”
Daniel closed his update with a report on the first restoration project of rainforest that was destroyed by artisanal gold mining. Daniel described how Pure Earth is training gold miners in safe, mercury-free mining methods and working with local organizations to restore the degraded land.
“Most importantly, we can see we are bringing hope to the people. Look at this picture,” said Daniel pointing to a picture of a man on the Pure Earth reforestation team. “He is happy. He has hope. He sees something that he saw that has been destroyed. He sees how it changing.”
Watch Daniel speak about Pure Earth’s dynamic approaches in Mexico, Brazil and Peru here.
Indonesia: Empowering Women Miners
Based in Indonesia, Budi Susilorini has been helping artisanal and small-scale gold miners reduce their use of mercury since 2009. Recently, she began working closely with a group of women miners on the island of Kalimantan, who have taken the skills they learned from Pure Earth and are determined to expand it into a mini empire.
The group of ten women have formed a cooperative to process gold without using mercury, incorporated book keeping so that all the gold they produce is well documented, and is now connected to ethnically-minded jewelers who are willing to pay 20% more for the women’s mercury-free gold.
Watch Budi discuss her work with women miners here.
Philippines: “Is this a river or is this ground?”
Larah Ortega Ibañez, who oversees work in her home country of the Philippines, talked about her work on one of the most polluted bodies of water in the world — the Marilao-Meycauayan-Obando river system, which runs through Manila. HSBC Philippines, a corporate partner, has been supporting Pure Earth’s cleanup work in the country with employee volunteers and financial support. Larah described how the river at times becomes almost solid with trash, and how Pure Earth is helping fish farmers in the area.
In 2017, Pure Earth cleaned up a town in Pampanga, in the Philippines, where a lead smelter had been operating for 20 years, providing jobs but also polluting the community. Larah described the blood lead levels of the smelter workers. As you watch the video, keep in mind that while there is no safe level of lead, the level of concern is just 5 micrograms per deciliter.
Watch Larah speak about river cleanups and lead pollution in the Philippines here.
India: Poisoned schools
Pure Earth advisor Karti Sandilya does not live in India any more, but he is continuing his fight to solve pollution in his home country from his base in Washington, D.C. Why is he so dedicated? Because India, he explains, is possibly the most polluted country in the world.
Children are the most vulnerable victims of pollution the world over, but in India, it is even more tragic because often their schools are where they are getting poisoned. In India, a main source of lead contamination is the recycling of used lead-acid (car) batteries. And because many of these industries are located in densely populated neighborhoods, many operate near residential areas and elementary schools.
Karti speaks about the pollution problem in India here.
Cameroon: Empowering local experts
Elena Rahona reported on the upcoming cleanup of two pesticide-polluted sites in Cameroon. This, she explained, was the culmination of three years of work in which dozens of polluted sites were identified and then ranked according to the severity of their threat to residents. Of those, the Pure Earth team narrowed down the list to two sites that needed to be immediately addressed. But what Elena also wanted to emphasize was how the project builds local capacity by having Pure Earth’s technical advisors train local experts and implement the cleanup plan together.
Senegal: 10 years later – happiness and health
Elena also gave a moving update about a woman we first met in Senegal ten years ago. The woman had lost five of her young children to lead poisoning because she was recycling used lead-acid (car) batteries. Find out how she and her surviving children are doing.
Elena explains the upcoming Cameroon cleanup and tells an inspiring story here.
Mongolia: Looking for a needle in a pile of hay
Over 100,000 people in Mongolia work in artisanal gold mining, with many using mercury, even though mercury is banned.
“How to identify places that are contaminated with mercury? It’s much more difficult than finding a needle in a pile of hay,” said Petr Sharov, Pure Earth’s regional director for Eastern Europe, and Central Asia. “Who will tell that they are using mercury? No one will tell.”
One solution? To have miners working with miners. Petr explained how Pure Earth brought in Filipino miners to train passionate Mongolians miners in mercury-free techniques, and how those miners are now training other miners.
Tajikistan: DDT was the solution to everything
“Everywhere in Soviet Union, you dig a little soil… you sample it, you will find it (DDT). It is literally everywhere,” Petr explained.
People in Tajikistan did not understand the danger. Watch Petr describe how families would even move into pesticide warehouses and live there despite the overpowering odor. One family would only use their house in the winter when it was too cold to stay outside.
Armenia: Lead from the 13th and 14th century
Talk about a toxic legacy. Petr closed the session describing Pure Earth’s cleanup of lead contamination at a historic Armenian monastery, a popular tourist destination located on top of a former copper smelter from the 13th and 14th centuries.
For the first spring in a millennia, the community and visitors were not exposed to dangerous levels of lead.
Watch Petr discuss the complexities of Mongolia, Tajikistan, and Armenia here.
When a Pure Earth team visited a home in Tajikistan recently, the owner’s 12-year-old son climbed up a persimmon tree to pick some fruit for our group.
According to local tradition, the man told us, any stranger who knocked on a home’s door would be welcomed. And he was right. In home after home we visited in Tajikistan, in an area near the Afghan border, where we had to pass through checkpoints and guards with guns, we were showered with hospitality. We were even invited to a wedding!
In Tajikistan, near the Afghan border, Pure Earth team member Alena finds a cuddly friend.
Living with Poison in Farkhor and Ziraki
The homes we visited were located in Farkhor and Ziraki, two areas in Tajikistan surrounded by large amounts of highly toxic pesticides, including DDT, which had once been used by large cotton farms in the area. Following the dismantling of the Soviet Union, the pesticides were left abandoned in unsafe conditions, where they sat in disintegrating bags leaking poison for decades.
We were in Tajikistan not only to remove the pesticides from two crumbling warehouses, but also to inform residents about the pollution, and what they can do to protect themselves. That was what we were doing when we met the man and his son in their home.
Our local outreach team talking to residents about pesticides in their neighborhood.
Our outreach team included university students from the capital of Dushanbe and members of a local NGO whom we trained. When our team talked to people in the two communities about the pesticide problem, we found that many had been living with poison for so long that they did not even notice it. But we did. The small of pesticide was strong.
In Farkhor, we found three new houses that were built attached to three old warehouses that were completely filled with pesticides. About 12 people lived there.
The Pure Earth team gathered about 20 soil samples from the courtyard, and took 50 readings with the XRF (X-ray fluorescence) analyzer, which registered arsenic and other heavy metals. We saw chickens, rabbits and children running around this contaminated yard.
The team took three days to properly bag the pesticides they found to prevent further leaking. The bags were then loaded onto a truck and taken away to a secure storage site. In total, about 40 bags (31,066 kg) of pesticides were cleared from the Farkhor.
Testing the site with an XRF (X-ray fluorescence) analyzer.
The cleanup in progress.
In Ziraki, located just 1 km from the Afghan border, the Pure Earth team bagged and removed 69 more bags bags of pesticide (12,971 kg). They even found a pesticide, potentially from China, branded “Kung Fu” in the piles.
While no one was living on this warehouse site, the area was open to the public, with a grapevine nearby, and across from a field where children often played. A settlement of homes was located across the steam, which was likely contaminated. We saw locals washing spoons in the water, which had a blueish hue, and we saw a dead chicken in another body of water in the warehouse compound.
We offered the local men watching us work respirators to use but many were uncomfortable with the color of the respirators — they were pink! But some eventually put on the respirators. After an hour of exposure, we were all getting headaches.
Some of the local men watching us work initially refused respirators because they were pink.
In total, we removed about 110 bags (44,037 kg) of obsolete pesticides from the two towns and transported them to a specially designated hazardous waste storage area in Vakhsh. Our team worked closely with the local government on the cleanups. While owners of polluted sites are sometimes upset at the attention a cleanup brings them, the landowners here welcomed our work. They understood that their land would now be more valuable for future projects.
During one of our lunch breaks, we took a short 15-minute walk to see the local wedding that was taking place. It is good to know that the young couple would begin a new phase of their lives in less toxic surroundings.
Lead Poisoning Study: 300 mothers and their newborns
In 2015, Pure Earth worked with the National Institute of Public Health (INSP) in Mexico on the first-ever effort to detect and measure exposure to lead poisoning at a state level in the country. The study was carried out in the state of Morelos to measure the blood lead levels of 300 mothers and their newborns. This was how we discovered Baby X.
In a late-night email labelled “URGENT,” a nurse wrote to inform us that they had discovered a newborn baby with a blood lead level of 40 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL)! The CDC recommends health intervention at levels above 5 µg/dL–the newborn was eight times over that limit.
We immediately adopted the case of Baby X as a priority
Lead poisoning occurs when toxic lead builds up in the body. In the case of newborn babies, toxic lead from the mother is passed to the baby through the placenta.
Exposure to lead is an extremely serious health issue. In adults it causes damage to the nervous and reproductive systems, as well as the kidneys. In children, it can cause permanent brain damage and other developmental issues. We had no time to lose. In order for Baby X to have a chance at developing normally to his full potential, we needed to lower his blood lead levels as soon as possible.
So how did Baby X and his mom get exposed to so much lead?
There are a number of main sources of lead poisoning around the world. The informal recycling of used lead-acid (car) batteries is one of them, but in Mexico, the leading source of exposure is the use of traditional pottery made with lead-based glazes.
Traditional lead-glazed pottery on sale on the streets of Mexico. These are used in many homes and restaurants across the country. Lead from the pots leach into the food prepared or served in them.
These beautiful pieces of pottery are used to cook and serve food in many homes and restaurants across Mexico. Lead in the pottery glaze mixes with acidic foods–like coffee, chili peppers, tomatoes and lemons–and quickly enters the bodies of anyone consuming the food. Up to 20% of Mexicans have elevated blood level levels. Baby X, his mother and grandmother were among them.
A quick and easy solution
We tested the pottery used by Baby X’s family and confirmed that they contained lead. The family cooked meals in their leaded pottery more than five times a week. To counteract the problem and start lowering Baby X’s blood lead level, Pure Earth changed the family’s pots–the new pots were made the same traditional way by artisans but using a lead-free glaze. They looked and functioned just like the family’s old pots.
In the months that followed, Baby X’s blood lead levels began dropping, sometimes by 5 points a month, sometimes more. After a year, Baby X and his mother showed a 90% decrease in their blood lead levels.
Baby X, no longer a baby, receiving follow up testing.
Baby X’s motor skills have improved and we are happy to report that he has hit all his developmental milestones. He is now a happy, healthy kindergartener.
With just a small change in the family’s pots, we were able to made a big difference in Baby X’s development and growth.
Pure Earth is working to make sure all the Baby Xs in Mexico get a chance at a healthy future. Since 2008, Pure Earth has been working with local authorities in Mexico to address the issue of lead in pottery. Our Barro Aprobado project is working to raise awareness about the dangers of leaded pottery, and to promote the use and production of lead-free pottery. Our efforts include helping artisanal potters switch to using lead free glazes, and working with restaurants and consumers to demand and use lead-free pottery.
During Earth Week, Pure Earth mobilized hundreds of people around the world for a series of pollution cleanup events and a special news-making photo exhibition and presentation. These events were all part of Pure Earth Day, our inaugural global effort to bring people and partners together to mark Earth Day and raise awareness about pollution and pollution solutions.
Pokemon Go Cleanups in 3 Countries
With the help of Niantic Labs, the people behind the worldwide gaming phenomenon Pokemon Go, hundreds of players and other concerned citizens turned up to participate in nine Pure Earth events, including cleanups in Mexico, Philippines, and Senegal
Along the way, participants in each location got to learn a little more about how pollution affects their local communities, what pollution solutions are available, and how they can help to solve pollution in their backyards.
Pure Earth Day Pokemon Go cleanup participants in the Philippines
About 350 people signed up to participate in two cleanups, which began with an opening ceremony following native tradition, asking permission of the 7 directions (north, south, east, west, up, down and inside).
The Pure Earth event in Mexico opened with a traditional ceremony.
Participants removed about 4 tons of garbage from a river in Los Remedios national park in Mexico City; planted 46 Canna Indica plants, a native species that can filter water; and made seed bombs which they playfully called “reforestation pokeballs.”
The Pure Earth team plans to keep the momentum going. They intend to purchase an anaerobic reactor and other materials to continue water treatments and to care for the filtering plants.
Some of the Pure Earth Day participants in Mexico.
Removing garbage from the river in Los Remedios national park.
About 400 people–including HSBC volunteers, local community members, local government officials, and Pokemon Go players–took part in a four-day event in Muntinlupa City and Quezon City, which featured three river cleanups and three ecobrick-making workshops.
Participants removed over 7 tons of garbage, and learned how to turn plastic garbage into building materials to reduce waste sent to landfills.
Participants received certificates after attending the ecobrick-making workshop.
Ecobricks: plastic bottles are filled with garbage, which can then be used as insulation and to add strength to building materials.
About 150 people–including community leaders such as Ndeye Fatou Diouf, the first deputy mayor, municipal councilors, and district delegates of Hann Marinas–turned up to help Pure Earth clean up Baie de Hann beach in Dakar.
The beach contains one of the largest fishing piers and fish markets in Senegal. Decaying waste from fish processing has been contaminating the water and fishing dock area. Residents complain of health problems from the pollution, which also threatens the local fishing economy.
Together, the group removed putrefactive algae from over 8 km of the beach near the fishing dock, and 7 tons of non-biodegradable solid waste, such as plastic bags, and other biodegradable waste.
The Pure Earth Day event was organized in collaboration with the Siggil Hann Association, the Citizen Consciousness Movement and the One Health Club of the National School of Sanitary and Social Development, along with the local NGO Light.
Pure Earth Day in Tajikistan Makes the News
In Tajikistan, Pure Earth put the focus on pollution and made the news.
Local news outlets Vecherka, ASIA Plus, Oila, Radio Sadoi Dushanbe, TV Vatan, TV Shabakai Yakum, and TV Jakhonnamo all came to learn more about the global problem of toxic pollution and how Tajikistan is being affected. The discussion brought the issue down to the community level by highlighting the most pressing local pollution problems along with a special photo exhibition showcasing successful solutions and cleanups that have taken place in the country.
The event, which was attended by the Deputy Head of the European Union delegation and Mr. Margus Solnson, the Head of Political, Press and Information Section, featured presentations from Petr Sharov, Pure Earth’s Regional Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and Umidjon Ulugov, Pure Earth’s country director for Tajikistan.
A reporter at Pure Earth’s Earth Day event in Tajikistan.
In South America, alluvial gold mining is degrading the Amazon basin at an unprecedented rate, leaving barren craters in previously lush rainforest.
The worst damage is happening in the Peruvian region of Madre de Dios, one of the most biodiverse and pristine areas in the world. The soaring global demand for gold in the last decade has attracted thousands of poor migrants looking for gold and a better future.
The damage from gold mining is clearly visible in the rainforest. Previously lush greenery is now scattered with barren craters.
While the situation is dire, there is a way to protect the endangered forest without stripping the miners of their livelihood.
Since December 2017, Pure Earth has collaborated with CINCIA (Amazon Center of Scientific Innovation) to ecologically restore areas degraded by mining and help miners responsibly close their mining concessions once they are ready to move on to mine in a new area.
The team planted 4,166 seedlings in December 2017, and returned a few months later in March 2018 to introduce an additional 744 seedlings to reinforce initial growth at the former mining site.
Pure Earth project leader France Cabanillas recently revisited the Paolita II site and reported that regrowth is on track.
A signboard explains the replanting at the Paolita II site.
Then in November 2018, Pure Earth reunited with CINCIA and mining leaders to work on restoring a new site–one hectare of degraded rainforest in the adjacent Fortuna Milagritos mining concession.
Together, Pure Earth and CINCIA have started the rehabilitation of about 3.5 hectares of rainforest at the two sites.
While the two replanted areas represent just a fraction of the deforestation (between 1999 and 2016, gold mining resulted in the removal of 68,228 hectares of rainforest in Madre de Dios), they are now models of hope, demonstrating that degraded mining areas can be brought back to life.
A team member planting a seedling in the degraded Fortuna Milagritos site in November 2018.
The key, according to Cabanillas, is collaboration: “We have learned that we have to work with the miners directly to be able to move forward on this issue and unfortunately not many institutions do that.”
Cabanillas has been working in the area since 2011 to find solutions to the damage inflicted by alluvial gold mining and to share this information with the state, private sector and, above all, the miners.
How To Restore A Rainforest
Rainforest reforestation is a process that requires rigorous planning, cutting-edge technology and staggering precision.
Step 1 – Mapping:
The first step is to fly a Phantom 4 drone over the site to create an “orthomosaic” map, used to identify the areas most in need of restoration.
Without the drone, this task would have been less accurate and considerably more time-consuming.
An orthomosaic map of the restoration area at the Fortuna Milagritos site
Step 2 – Plant/Species Selection:
While nine plant species were selected for the Paolita II site, twelve plant species were chosen for the Fortuna Milagritos site based on CINCIA’s longstanding research with experimental plots.
Achieving the most sustainable and effective planting strategy is a delicate balance. Fast-growing “pioneer” plants must complement slow-growth species. Also, it’s important that the trees utilize different resources so as not to compete with one another.
Lines of saplings from Pure Earth’s restoration at the Paolita II site.
Along with developing an ecologically healthy forest, species were selected for future sustainable use.
For instance, the gigantic kapok tree, which can grow up to 60 m in height and 3 m in diameter, provides nesting for the harpy eagle and other fauna, but is also used in the production of plywood and artisanal canoes.
Unloading seedlings from the outboard boat, where they were ferried up the Madre de Dios River.
Step 3 – Transportation:
The heavy lifting for this project was done by local residents of the area, including ecology students from the National Amazonian University of Madre de Dios and the National University of San Antonio Abad de Cusco in Puerto Maldonado.
First, the team drove the 1,700 seedlings from Puerto Maldonado to a nearby port, where they were ferried up the Madre de Dios River, and then carried directly to the Fortuna Milagritos site.
The team performed some makeshift adjustments to protect the precious seedlings, like erecting a tarp over the truck-bed to prevent defoliation during the journey.
Even more onerous than carrying the seedlings was hauling 1,700 kilos (about 3,740 pounds) of “biochar” to the site.
Made from recycled chestnut shells, biochar aids the soil’s retention of water and nutrients while preventing the plant from absorbing mercury in the soil. It is an increasingly popular soil amendment and even has potential to mitigate climate change through carbon sequestration.
The team loads sacks with biochar, which is added to the seedlings as a soil amendment.
Step 4 – Planting:
Once all materials were delivered, the team meticulously planted the seedlings at 3 x 2 meter distances in alternating lines between coverage (fast-growing) and diversity (slow-growing) species.
To bolster growth, each seedling was generously planted with a base of hydrogel, 1 kilo of biochar (enriched with molasses and productive microorganisms) and a ring of fertilizer.
Adding soil amendments to a seedling.
Step 5 – Documentation:
The final step in this rich and complex process is record keeping.
Team members measured the height and diameter of all 1,700 planted seedlings in order to monitor future growth. This data will help CINCIA and other rainforest champions improve future reforestations.
Reforestation is all about looking ahead.
While the ecosystem should be self-sufficient in about 30 years, species like the giant kapok tree will continue growing for hundreds of years. This may seem like a long way off, but this forward-thinking perspective is exactly what’s needed for goldmining and the rainforest to coexist.
This post is from Charles Espinosa, an intern working with our Latin America program team. Charlie is pursuing a master’s degree in Latin American studies at Columbia University, with a focus on Cuban history.
This project was funded by the U.S. Department of State to assist the Peruvian government and civil society in assessing artisanal gold mining sites, planning remediation efforts and strategies for alternative livelihoods, and sustainably restoring affected natural resources. Partners included the Ministry of Environment (MINAM: Ministerio de Medio Ambiente) of Peru.
Pure Earth also works in many other artisanal gold mining areas around the world to reduce the impact of toxic mercury while maintaining livelihoods. Because different methods work at different sites, project teams test a variety of approaches; some that eliminate the use of mercury entirely, and others that use (and recapture) mercury.
This post is from Pure Earth development associate Erin Andrews.
This is an important year for Pure Earth.
It marks 20 years of leading the charge in fighting pollution – 20 years of saving lives, particularly the lives of children in poor communities, by reducing disease-causing pollution.
With your help, we’ve accomplished so much. Millions of children and families around the world are healthier today. Here is a summary of our 2018 accomplishments and our plans for 2019.
Key 2018 accomplishments include:
The first lead site remediation in Armenia was completed. With the support of Armenia Fund USA Eastern Affiliate, the Apostolic church and monastery in Akhtala is now lead-free and safe for generations of children and their families. It will serve as a pilot project showing that polluted sites can be cleaned up in a cost effective manner.
Children were protected from being exposed to poison in their sleep. After our cleanup in the Colombian community of Malambo, we unexpectedly found that some children’s blood lead levels were still high. Following some environmental detective work, we found another source of exposure: lead particles from old toxic soil was trapped in children’s mattresses, constantly re-exposing them. Pure Earth mobilized and replaced the lead-saturated mattresses of residents, so children in Malambo now have a safe and sound sleep. And by building credibility and capacity within the country, we are now working with the government on a more comprehensive pollution plan.
We documented 65% reduction of blood-lead levels of participating children within 6 months after we expanded our training of potters to the state of Puebla, as part of Barro Aprobado — our Lead and Health Initiative in Mexico, which addresses widespread lead poisoning caused by traditional lead-glazed pottery.
Pure Earth’s advocacy resulted in the Mexican government including, for the first time, blood lead testing in the national health survey, which will provide critical baseline data.
In Peru, we continued training artisanal and small scale gold miners in mercury-free methods. Over 200 miners have been trained to date, and an innovative forest restoration project was successfully piloted in an area degraded by the mercury used in gold mining. The government has now agreed to allocate $60 million to scale-up this forestation method.
2019 is already off to a great start:
We published an important white paper, Pollution Knows No Borders, on the transboundary nature of pollution. It documents how pollution migrates from low- and middle-income countries around the globe through the air, water, food and products, affecting everyone’s health. The report also provides concrete ways to address this global issue, by controlling pollution at the source, as well as actions individuals can take to reduce their exposure to some transboundary toxins. The full report is available here.
Pure Earth is collaborating with a local partner in India to establish the first collective of informal battery recyclers to formalize their operations and access state resources to relocate to an industrial zone and upgrade their practices. It is part of our continuing work in India addressing substantial lead pollution caused by the informal recycling of used lead acid batteries.
We’ve completed a Health and Pollution Action Plan (HPAP) with the government of Madagascar that analyzes pollution challenges and advances concrete actions to reduce impacts on public health in the country. It was well-received and endorsed by the ministries of health and environment. USAID, which is the lead development agency in the country, has invited Pure Earth to present at its next funder meeting this Spring. In addition, Unicef wants to fund work addressing indoor air pollution.
With leadership support from HSBC, we’re making important progress in our Phillipines water program, addressing the river pollution which is contaminating the Manila metro area fish supply and environment. In February, HSBC volunteers conducted a cleanup to remove waste from the Alabang Cupang River System. We are also monitoring the contamination of fish in the markets and continuing to train fisherfolk in best practices to cost-effectively remove toxins from their fish farms.
Success with Support
Our success wouldn’t be possible without the generosity of individuals, corporations and foundations. Your support directly benefits the health of countless vulnerable children and families through our cost-effective and life-saving solutions. We look forward to working with you throughout 2019.
In 2017, more than 30 models got on a bus and headed to the People’s Climate March in Washington, D.C. It was one of their first forays as the Model Mafia, a powerful collective of activist models brought together by Cameron Russell and Áine Rose Campbell. Today, over 200 models belong to the Model Mafia, and they are changing the world once cause at a time. We’re so glad that they are now helping us to raise awareness to fight pollution — the largest environmental cause of premature death and disease in the world today.
“One of our (Model Mafia) members, Molly Bair, besides modeling and going to school to study environmental science, interned with Pure Earth! She learned about how the nonprofit takes on the challenges of global toxic pollution, particularly the pollution caused by gold mining, which is the largest contributor to mercury pollution,” recalls Cameron Russell.
“So, when she brought the project to us to see if we might be able to facilitate more model collaborations it was a no brainer. Our community is always looking for creative, transformative ways to engage the fashion community in environmental issues.”
Our community is always looking for creative, transformative ways to engage the fashion community in environmental issues.
The Model Mafia and Pure Earth are collaborating on the 4th Pure Earth Pure Gold responsibly-sourced jewelry collection, which is being auctioned NOW to support Pure Earth’s pollution cleanup work, including efforts to train artisanal gold miners to go mercury free.
Scroll down to meet members of the Model Mafia and learn more about the issue of gold and pollution.
About the Pure Earth Pure Gold collection
Some of the beautiful pieces from the Pure Earth Pure Gold responsible jewelry collection, crafted by over 30 leading designers, assembled for the photo shoot.
The collection features Model Mafia members Hartje Andresen, Meisha Brooks, Aine Rose Campbell, Brana Dane, and Renee Peters wearing works by over 30 leading designers. All works in the collection were crafted using responsibly-sourced gold and stones. Hoover and Strong, Universal Metals, Diamond Foundry, and Perpetuum Jewels all donated materials to some of the participating designers.
Designers featured in the 4th Pure Earth Pure Gold responsible jewelry collection include: Aesa Jewelry, Allison Hall, Amanda Pearl, Ani Khachian Fine Jewelry, Annika Inez, Arabel Lebrusan , Ariane Zurcher Designs, Bario Neal, Bayou with Love, Brilliant Earth, Casa Collab, Chandally, Christina Malle Jewelry, Dana Bronfman, Donna Distefano, East Fourth Street, Emily Chelsea Jewelry, Futura Jewelry, Gillian Steinhardt, Grace Lee, Halleh, Hi June Parker Jewelry , KATKIM, Leigh Miller Jewelry , Liam Powers Jewelry, Melissa Joy Manning , Merzatta, Michael Aram, Mociun, Pili Restrepo, S/H Koh, Scosha, Selin Kent, Shahla Karimi, Spinelli Kilcolin, Steven Jacob, Toby Pomeroy, Ursa Major and Vale.
Meet the Model Mafia, learn more about the issue:
Aine Rose Campbell, Model Mafia co-founder, being photographed wearing pieces from the Pure Earth Pure Gold responsible jewelry collection. Dress: Mi Jong Lee; Shoes: Taylor + Thomas, Fashionkind.com
Áine Rose Campbell
“I hope that the Model Mafia and Pure Earth collaboration will raise awareness about the pollution created by most jewelry manufacturing, in particular, the fact that artisanal gold mining is the leading cause of mercury emissions. This mercury then travels into water systems, poisons the marine life, and poisons anyone who eats the contaminated seafood. This is unacceptable and people need to know that there are sustainable and environmentally friendly jewelry options for purchase.”
“It’s really important for the fashion industry to get behind brands that are using clean gold so that we can see a change happen more quickly. Sustainable practices should be the norm, not the exception.”
Sustainable practices should be the norm, not the exception.
Model Mafia member Brana Dane being photographed wearing pieces from the Pure Earth Pure Gold responsible jewelry collection. Robe, Top, Pants: Mi Jong Lee, Fashionkind.com
“We live on one earth and the environmental challenges we face are becoming immense. I feel that this is something more Americans need to be aware of. It’s not only an environmental issue, it’s a health and safety issue.”
“As a model, I have a platform; I am consciously choosing to use my platform to support causes I believe in. I wholeheartedly believe clean air and clean water is a human right. Pure Earth is working to remedy the dire situation in many parts of the world where this basic human right is compromised… Like it or not, models are looked up to by many. That’s why it’s so important to be not just a model, but also a Role Model.”
… it’s so important to be not just a model, but also a Role Model.
Model Mafia member Hartje Andresen being photographed wearing pieces from the Pure Earth Pure Gold responsible jewelry collection, available for auction until April 8. Jumpsuit: Irwin Garden, Fashionkind.com
“News about pollution and global warming are coming up more and more frequently and with a sense of urgency that makes many people rethink the way they shop and re-evaluate their priorities.”
“As with so many things, the first thing to do is to educate ourselves. Research how the way you shop and consume can aggravate or alleviate the issue. Get together with friends and discuss ideas, what changes you can make so your lifestyle will not contribute to the problem. Spread the word and share those ideas, encourage friends and family to do the same. Beyond that, you can find out other ways, for example to support organizations that are involved in solving the problem. Send them an email and ask for more information, if they need volunteers or donations. There are really no limits about what you can do, it just depends on how much time/money/energy you are willing to put into it.”
…the first thing to do is to educate ourselves.
Model Mafia member Meisha Brooks being photographed wearing pieces from the Pure Earth Pure Gold responsible jewelry collection, available for auction beginning March 26. Jumpsuit: Irwin Garden, Shoes: Taylor + Thomas, Fashionkind.com
“The fashion industry relies on international consumption to exist. The condition of the supply chain is important… Transboundary pollution isn’t simply an industry problem it’s a human problem. We are all affected no matter what country we inhabit and it is the responsibility of those with influential positions to get involved with making positive changes for everyone. ”
“What I love about Pure Earth is that they are active leaders in the entire spectrum of addressing world pollution. It’s a human-focused effort with the priority constantly being the well being of victims… Everything is driven by local power. They have local advocates motivate change and this is the most effective method for adoption of new technology. Ultimately, those efforts which do not respect local structures, well-intentioned or not, end up making very little impact. Pure Earth has been able to address and prevent pollution while at the same time helping existing communities thrive.”
Transboundary pollution isn’t simply an industry problem it’s a human problem.
Model Mafia member Renee Peters being photographed wearing pieces from the Pure Earth Pure Gold responsible jewelry collection, available for auction until April 8. Dress: Mi Jong Lee, Fashionkind.com
Raising awareness about the gold/pollution connection:
Do you know where your gold in your jewelry and electronics come from?
About 10% to 25% of the world’s total gold supply comes from artisanal gold mining. Artisanal and small-scale gold mining is the leading cause of mercury pollution in the world, accounting for over 30% of global emissions, making it one of the world’s worst pollution problems.
Artisanal gold miners work in dangerous conditions to earn a meager living. To help them extract small grains of gold from ore, miners add mercury, which binds with the gold to form an amalgam. When burned, the toxic mercury evaporates into the atmosphere, leaving behind gold.
Women miners in Indonesia pan for gold. Pure Earth is teaching them how to go mercury-free. Photo: YTS
Artisanal miners (including some 4.5 million women) and their families are often the first to suffer from mercury poisoning, but everyone is threatened because mercury travels far and wide, dropping into oceans and rivers, poisoning seafood we all consume.
Today, an estimated 19 million people are at risk of mercury poisoning. Children and pregnant women are especially vulnerable. Mercury attacks the central nervous system and many organs. It passes through the placenta and travels into developing fetus, causing birth defects and brain damage.
Increasing demand for mercury-free gold will help more artisanal miners to go mercury free, ensuring their livelihoods while reducing mercury emissions, and preventing mercury poisoning globally.
What Is Being Done?
On the ground, Pure Earth has been working to reduce and prevent toxic mercury pollution in artisanal gold mining communities in Peru, Indonesia, Mongolia, and other countries. Pure Earth works to raise awareness among miners and their families about the dangers of mercury, train miners in mercury-free mining techniques, and work with local governments to scale up sustainable mining practices.
The celebration in the public town square of Karmalichak, a community in Patna, in the state of Bihar, India, was not only fun, but potentially life-changing. Organized by our local partner, the Institute of Environment and Eco-Development (IEED), the event was promoted as a festive social gathering, but its real purpose was to educate residents about deadly lead poisoning, and to celebrate the cleanup of lead contamination in their town.
A local theater troupe perform a play about the dangers of lead.
Hundreds showed up. They came with their friends and families, with babies in tow. There was food, music, dancing, and songs and skits performed on a stage.
The media showed up with cameras, local leaders gave speeches, and even the Mayor of Patna attended.
The Mayor of Patna speaks to the audience.
For years, the residents of Karmalichak, including about 300 children, have lived with toxic lead. It was in their homes, streets, playgrounds, and schools. Yet few were aware of it, and many learned about it that day from performers and presenters on that brightly decorated stage.
Lead is an invisible danger that accumulates slowly and silently in bodies, threatening the health of those exposed, in particular children.
The public celebration didn’t just bring to light the community’s lead poisoning problem, but also put a spotlight on the solution, and all the work that had been going on in the community leading up to the event.
For months, the Pure Earth team had been collaborating with local partners and community leaders to identify toxic sites in the area, confirm the level of contamination and risk to residents, plan the cleanup project, train workers, and conduct community outreach.
Karmalichak’s Youngest Victims Were Poisoned At School
Inside the school.
For years, teachers in Karmalichak’s elementary school tried to elevate young minds, not realizing that their students were being stifled by toxic lead being released just next to the school.
An informal battery manufacturer was assembling batteries less than 10 meters from the school attended by 250 children. The plant closed in 2016 but left behind a dangerous legacy of lead that contaminated surrounding homes, roads, playgrounds, and the school in this densely-packed neighborhood.
When we tested 41 local children, we found that their mean blood lead levels were approximately 25 μg/dL, with some recording blood lead levels as high as 80 μg/dL—16 times the US CDC’s reference level (NOTE: While there is no safe level of lead, a lead level of 5 µg/dl is known to cause intellectual impairment and triggers intervention in the US.)
In addition to health damages, lead poisoning has been linked to a loss of IQ. In Karmalichak, children may have permanently lost between five and nine IQ points because of lead poisoning.
How do you clean up a community?
Pure Earth’s Promila Sharma using an XRF to test the ground for toxins.
Pure Earth and IEED began at ground zero—the site of the contamination—and mapped out 46 points surrounding the former battery manufacturing site for environmental sampling and analysis.
Using a handheld X-ray fluorescence (XRF) analyzer, which can analyze the concentration of toxic metal particles in soil in about 30 seconds, the team identified eight public areas where the lead contamination exceeded 400 ppm as priorities for cleanup.
These areas included a field where crops were being grown and potentially contaminated with lead, and areas where children played or where residents walked, worked or gathered.
Pure Earth technical advisor, Gordon Binkhorst, trained 15 local workers and supervisors to conduct the cleanup.
The workers cleared away trash, and used 34 truckloads of clean soil and sand to cap contaminated streets and public areas to seal in the toxic lead and prevent it from spreading. The team paved several paths with concrete and drainage channels to not only seal the contaminated soil under the path, but to upgrade the community’s infrastructure to better serve them during monsoons.
The team also cleaned the interior of the school and of homes within the previously contaminated area. They door to door to every household in Karmalichak to provide information about the harmful effects of lead contamination, and how to keep their homes clean and free of toxic lead.
A residential yard
A boy holds one of our informational leaflets.
A Local, National, and Global Problem
The lead problem is not unique to Karmalichak. In Bihar state, where Karmalichak is located, one in three deaths is attributable to pollution-related illness.
Of the 120 contaminated sites Pure Earth and IEED have identified in Bihar through the Toxic Sites Identification Program, 112 were contaminated with lead.
Nationally, lead poisoning is widespread among India’s children. Existing studies suggest that Indian children under 12 have a mean blood lead level (BLL) of 7 µg/dl, and 9 µg/dl for kids under age 2. Writing in the Economic Times, Dr. Subhojit Dey, Associate Professor, Indian Institute of Public Health, (IIPHD) estimates that the “loss of IQ of Indian children due to such high lead levels is resulting in $236.1 billion (12.5% of India’s GDP) in economic productivity every year.”
March 12, 2019–The 63rd session of the Commission on the Status of Women is currently taking place at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. Pure Earth is joining with participants from around the world to discuss a variety of issues concerning the empowerment of women and girls, equal rights, access to opportunities and more.
Here at Pure Earth, we aim for equal participation of women in all our projects. Here’s why:
Exposures to dangerous chemicals have a multigenerational impact on women, families and entire communities. Pregnant women can transmit toxins to their infants in utero and via breast milk. Toxic exposures have been linked to pre-term birth, and infant mortality. Research shows that exposure to toxic pollution in utero can also impact the future reproductive and genetic health of a developing fetus.
Because of their traditional gender roles, women usually work with children nearby. Then they return to their homes to care for and prepare meals for the family. If women are exposed to toxic pollution, chances are that their families will be poisoned too.
Millions of women work in artisanal and small-scale industries that pollute and use dangerous chemicals on a daily basis. These industries include artisanal gold mining, used lead-acid battery recycling and leather tanning.
Women are commonly pushed to the fringe in these industries, thereby forming a de facto high-risk population. For example, they may be economically isolated, excluded from cooperatives or ownership positions or paid through back channels to work in their homes or backyards rather than in monitored, safer industrial environments.
Toxic pollution can make women’s daily routines more difficult, preventing them from making strides in their lives. For example, contamination of soil and rivers has made many ground and surface water sources no longer usable for domestic use. Not only does this affect the availability of clean water but it also disrupts women’s daily routines with the need to fetch or buy water in areas located farther away, keeping them away from their family and work opportunities. In addition, this could mean that scarce income has to be diverted to the purchase of safe water. This can trap women in a cycle of poverty.
Pollution impacts the poor the most, and women are more likely to be at the bottom of the social-economic ladder. The poisoned poor cannot afford to move or clean up their toxic communities.
This post is from Lara Crampe, Pure Earth’s Director of Community Outreach.
This photo (above) is heartbreaking for me. The young girl in pink is chronically exposed to extremely high levels of lead because families in her village have been recycling and smelting lead and other metals for decades. Not only is her development being impacted, but also the development of her future children.
We tend to focus on lead exposures of pregnant women or women of child-bearing age when talking about fetal impacts of lead, but if a young girl is exposed to extremely high levels of lead over a long period of time, the devastating impacts to her can also affect her future children, a generation away. To me, this picture shows mothers, children, and THEIR future children poisoned by lead and it calls me to take action.
The human body’s reaction to lead is complex. In chronic exposures, the lead becomes incorporated into the teeth and bones, stored there as if it were calcium or some other vital mineral rather than a toxic substance. In a man, this lead incorporated into the bones can gradually leach out over time. The half-life of lead in bones can be up to 28 years. But in girls or women, lead is stored in the body only to be re-mobilized in the event of pregnancy. When a fetus begins developing, the woman’s body releases stored calcium and other vital building blocks of life to help support the baby’s development. Unfortunately, this includes remobilization of lead or other toxins that have been stored in the body.
Lead is a potent neurotoxin, causing lower intellectual capacity, neurological damage and cardiovascular disease, among other problems. In children, lead can affect nearly every organ in a young developing body, in particular the brain and nervous systems, with devastating and sometimes permanent health consequences. Passed from one generation to the next, lead poisoning can drain a families’ future potential.
In this little girl’s village, the surface soil has lead levels reaching up to 50,000 parts per million (as a comparison, the US EPA guidance for bare yards where children play is 400 parts per million.)
Of the adults tested in the village, 88% had blood lead levels (BLL) above 10 milligrams per deciliter and 16% had BLL above 45 micrograms per deciliter (as a comparison, the average BLL for affected children in Flint, MI was 7.825, and the US CDC uses 5 micrograms per deciliter as the indicator level of exposures to lead that should trigger intervention, and 45 micrograms per deciliter is the action level for potential hospitalization.) We did not test the children in this village (yet).
I first visited the village in 2015, taking pictures, gathering soil samples, and meeting with local officials. I was full of optimism that we were uncovering the problem and would be able to help local and national leaders find a solution.
In these first visits, I struggled with how much to reveal to the women who came up to me as I was testing their yards and taking pictures. Do I tell them they are being poisoned? That their yards are toxic? I returned several times throughout the following two years with funding from various agencies supporting our work to find a solution for the village.
In the end, the national government opted to take no action despite available funding and a clear plan for protecting children’s health by covering the contaminated areas with clean soil.
Unfortunately, the little girl in pink and all the other children in that village are still being poisoned every day. It is rapidly becoming too late for the effects on them to be reversed. Every day that goes by, it becomes more likely that it may be too late for their FUTURE children as well. How many more villages like this do I need to visit? How many other little girls are already, unknowingly, tragically, poisoning their future children?
The good news is that cleanups are happening successfully around the world. We have done many lead remediations with cooperative governments and communities in villages from Zambia to Vietnam, the Philippines, and Kyrgyzstan.
Our cleanups are low-cost and proven, with follow-up monitoring of children showing drops in blood lead levels. The future is now brighter in the villages we have reached. We need to continue to raise awareness about the easily preventable tragedy of childhood lead poisoning. Organizations like Pure Earth have simple, low-cost methods to protect children’s health and depend on concerned individuals around the world to help us fund the cleanups and call attention to the need for more action.
Please share this story and help us reach more people with this important message! Thank you.
Lara (left) and her camera
Cinangka, Indonesia: these children now play on a clean soccer field that replaced a lead-contaminated dump.
Bulacan, Philippines: an informal community lives on highly polluted land adjacent to a former battery recycling plant.
Kabwe, Zambia: children play in one of the most polluted towns we have ever worked in.