Toxic waste sites in India with elevated levels of lead and chromium are causing disease, disability and even death, leading to loss of healthy years of life among people, according to a new research.
The scale of the problem is comparable to that of other major public health issues such as malaria and outdoor air pollution, it added, also affecting the unborn foetus.
The study titled 'The Burden of Disease from Toxic Waste Sites in India, Indonesia, and the Philippines in 2010,' which focuses on individuals living near 373 sites located in these three countries, was published in Environmental Health Perspectives.
"Lead and hexavalent chromium proved to be the most toxic chemicals," said the study leader, Kevin Chatham-Stephens, MD, Paediatric Environmental Health Fellow at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
"They have caused the majority of disease, disability and mortality among the individuals living near the sites," he added while presenting the findings today at the Paediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting in Washington DC.
Eight chemicals were collected at the toxic waste sites in 2010 and measured for pollutant levels in soil and water and compared with the 8,629,750 individuals at risk of exposure 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 Organisation.
One DALY represents the loss of one year of equivalent full health. 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.
"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," said Chatham-Stephens.
"This study highlights a major and previously under-recognised global health problem in lower and middle income countries," added Philip Landrigan, MD, MSc, Dean for Global Health at the School and one of the study authors.
"If a woman is pregnant, the foetus may be exposed to these toxic chemicals," said Chatham-Stephens.
High exposure to lead can cause neurological, gastrointestinal and cardiovascular damage, while that to chromium ups the risk of developing lung cancer.