Air Pollution Kills 7m Yearly, Says WHO

This picture taken on April 24, 2020 shows a sign of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva next to their headquarters, amid the COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the novel coronavirus. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP
This picture taken on April 24, 2020 shows a sign of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva next to their headquarters, amid the COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the novel coronavirus.
Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

 

The World Health Organization strengthened its air quality guidelines on Wednesday, saying air pollution was now one of the biggest environmental threats to human health, causing seven million premature deaths a year.

Urgent action is needed to reduce exposure to air pollution, said the UN body, ranking its burden of disease on a par with smoking and unhealthy eating.

“WHO has adjusted almost all the air quality guideline levels downwards, warning that exceeding the new… levels is associated with significant risks to health,” it said.

“Adhering to them could save millions of lives.”

The guidelines aim to protect people from the adverse effects of air pollution and are used by governments as a reference for legally binding standards.

The UN health agency last issued air quality guidelines, or AQGs, in 2005, which had a significant impact on pollution abatement policies worldwide.

In the 16 years since however, the WHO said more evidence had emerged showing that air pollution effected health at lower concentrations than previously understood.

“The accumulated evidence is sufficient to justify actions to reduce population exposure to key air pollutants, not only in particular countries or regions but on a global scale,” the organisation said.

READ ALSO: Guinea Declares End Of Marburg Virus Outbreak, Says WHO

COP26 report

The new guidelines come just in time for the COP26 global climate summit held in Glasgow from October 31 to November 12.

The WHO said that alongside climate change, air pollution was one of the biggest environmental threats to human health.

Its climate change chief Maria Neira said the WHO was preparing a major report to present in Glasgow to stress the “enormous health benefits” of reducing air pollution through mitigating climate change.

“You can imagine the incredible number of lives we will save,” she told journalists.

The new WHO guidelines recommend lower air quality levels for six pollutants, including ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide.

The other two are PM10 and PM2.5 — particulate matter equal or smaller than 10 and 2.5 microns in diameter.

Both can penetrate deep into the lungs but researchers say PM2.5 can even enter the bloodstream, causing mainly cardiovascular and respiratory problems, but also affecting other organs, said the WHO.

In response, the PM2.5 guideline level has been halved.

In 2019, more than 90 percent of the world’s population lived in areas where concentrations exceeded the 2005 AQG for long-term PM2.5 exposure, with southeast Asia the worst-affected region.

Premature deaths

“Almost everyone around the world is exposed to unhealthy levels of air pollution,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“Inhaling dirty air increases the risk of respiratory diseases like pneumonia, asthma… and increases the risk of severe Covid-19.”

Air quality markedly improved since the 1990s in high-income countries, the WHO noted. But the global toll in deaths and lost years of healthy life barely declined because air quality deteriorated in most other countries, in line with their economic development.

“Every year, exposure to air pollution is estimated to cause seven million premature deaths and result in the loss of millions more healthy years of life,” the WHO said.

In children, this could mean reduced lung growth and function, respiratory infections and aggravated asthma.

In adults, ischaemic heart disease — also called coronary heart disease — and strokes are the most common causes of premature death attributable to outdoor air pollution.

The evidence since 2005 showed how air pollution affected “all parts of the body, from the brain to a growing baby in a mother’s womb”, said Tedros.

Evidence is also emerging of other effects such as diabetes and neurodegenerative conditions, said the organisation.

Professor Alastair Lewis, of Britain’s National Centre for Atmospheric Science, said the guidelines “dramatically increase the scale of challenge to society” in cutting air pollution.

But he said the PM2.5 guidelines were “the most contentious” as they come from natural sources too — even from cooking — and can stay airborne for weeks.

“PM2.5 is, to an extent, also an inevitable and unavoidable consequence of living a 21st-century life,” said Lewis.

AFP

Fossil Fuel Pollution Causes One In Five Deaths Globally

 

Fossil fuel pollution caused more than eight million premature deaths in 2018, accounting for nearly 20 percent of adult mortality worldwide, researchers reported Tuesday.

Half of that grim tally was split across China and India, with another million deaths equally distributed among Bangladesh, Indonesia, Japan and the United States, they reported in the journal Environmental Research.

The toxic cocktail of tiny particles cast off by burning oil, gas and especially coal was responsible for a quarter or more of the mortality in half a dozen nations, all in Asia.

“We often discuss the dangers of fossil fuel combustion in the context of CO2 and climate change and overlook the potential health impacts,” co-author Joel Schwartz, a professor of environmental epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said in a statement.

The potential to avoid millions of premature deaths should be a powerful additional incentive for policymakers to drive down greenhouse gas emissions and hasten the global shift from brown to green energy, he said.

Worldwide, air pollution shortens lives by more than two years on average, earlier research has shown.

Worst-hit is Asia, where average lifespan is cut 4.1 years in China, 3.9 years in India, and 3.8 years in Pakistan. In some regions of these countries, life expectancy is reduced by twice as much.

– ‘Pieces of the puzzle’ –

In Europe, it is shortened by eight months on average.

The new study nearly doubles previous estimates of the number of people killed by fossil fuel pollution.

The World Health Organization says that air pollution — including indoors — kills seven million people per year, with 4.2 million of those deaths due to ambient, or outdoor, pollution.

The most recent Global Burden of Disease study — the most comprehensive catalogue of why people die — advances roughly the same numbers.

Both of these estimates relied on satellite data and surface observations to determine concentrations of the smallest — and most deadly — calibre of pollution, known as PM2.5.

But they cannot determine whether these microparticles come from burning fossil fuels or, say, dust and wildfire smoke, according to co-author Loretta Mickley, an expert in chemistry-climate interactions at Harvard.

“With satellite data, you’re seeing only pieces of the puzzle,” she said.

To get a more fine-grained picture of where particle pollution comes from and its health impacts, Mickley and colleagues used a 3-D model of atmospheric chemistry, known as GEOS-Chem, that divides Earth’s surface into 50-by-60-kilometre (30-by-36-mile) blocks.

– A new risk assessment –

“Rather than rely on averages spread across large regions, we wanted to map where the pollution is and where people live,” said lead author Karn Vohra, a graduate student at the University of Birmingham.

The next step was to plug in data on carbon emissions — from the power sector, industry, shipping, aviation and ground transport — along with NASA simulations of air circulation.

Once the researchers had PM2.5 concentrations for each box in the global grid, they still needed to determine the consequences for health.

Previous calculations of air pollution impacts — based on exposure to indoor second-hand smoke — seriously underestimate the danger, recent studies have found, so the researchers developed a new risk assessment model.

Compared with other causes of premature death, air pollution kills 19 times more people each year than malaria, nine times more than HIV/AIDS, and three times more than alcohol.

Coronary heart disease and stroke account for almost half of those deaths, with lung diseases and other non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure making up most of the rest.

Pollution: South Korea To Suspend 25% Of Coal Plants

 

South Korea will suspend up to a quarter of its coal-fired power plants in the next three months, even as demand for electricity peaks during the bitter winter, as it seeks to tackle air pollution, Seoul said Thursday. 

The world’s 11th largest economy is struggling to address growing public concern over airborne particles and pollutants, known as “fine dust”, that have raised public fears of omnipresent environmental harm.

Air pollution is designated as a “social disaster” and many South Koreans blame China, the source of the prevailing winds and the world’s biggest polluter, which is more frequently affected by choking bouts of filthy air.

The South is generally poor in resources but still operates 60 coal-fired power stations, which provide over 40 percent of the country’s electricity supply.

At least eight and as many 15 will have operations suspended from Sunday until February 29, the Ministry of  Trade, Industry and Energy said in a statement.

The remaining plants will reduce output to 80 percent of capacity over the period, it said, adding the measures would reduce the sector’s fine dust production by up to 44 percent.

But its first priority would be to maintain a “stable power supply”.

Electricity demand soars for heating in winter, and is expected to peak in the fourth week of January. At that time stores will be banned from keeping their doors open as an energy-saving measure, the ministry said, with violators fined up to three million won ($2,500).

AFP

Suffer The Children: How Air Pollution Hurts The Youngest

 

Air pollution can have devastating health effects for people of all ages, but children are more vulnerable and face specific risks that can last a lifetime, experts say.

Why are children more vulnerable?

Children breathe faster than adults and are smaller “so they end up getting a higher dose of air pollution into their lungs relative to their body mass than adults,” said Rima Habre, assistant professor of clinical preventative health at the University of Southern California (USC).

Children are also closer to the ground, where some types of pollutants tend to concentrate, and can be exposed to dirty air for longer stretches if they play outside.

READ ALSO: Toxic Air Tears Apart Families In Mongolia

But air pollution isn’t only found outdoors. Some of the most serious air pollutions are in homes where heating and cooking fires burn fuel incompletely, producing hazardous fumes.

These are disproportionately inhaled by young children and their mothers, who spend more time inside and often close to the home’s stove.

Children’s organs are also still growing and pollution can slow the development of the lungs, brain and other organs in ways that can have life-long effects.

“Children have a long life ahead of them during which even diseases with a long latency period have time to manifest,” said Carrie Breton, associate professor of preventive medicine at USC.

What are the effects on children?

The consequences of air pollution can be immediate but can also manifest over the longer term. The most obvious immediate effects are respiratory. Children exposed to air pollution are more susceptible to infections including pneumonia and bronchitis, as well as asthma.

Research into how exactly air pollution causes these problems is still ongoing, but the World Health Organisation says dirty air contributed to respiratory tract infections that resulted in 543,000 deaths in children under five in 2016.

And there are other less obvious effects including on “biological pathways,” Breton said.

“There is some evidence to suggest air pollution may shift metabolic or stress response pathways that could then put children at greater risk for diabetes later in life or cardiovascular diseases,” she added.

The WHO also says there is “substantial evidence” that traffic-related air pollution “is associated with increased risk of childhood leukemia.”

Other research has linked air pollution to childhood obesity, persistent ear infections and neurodevelopment issues that can lead to lower cognitive test outcomes and may influence behavioural disorders.

What about in the womb?

Children are exposed to the health dangers of air pollution even while they are still in the womb.

“Gases and ultrafine particulates can penetrate deep into the lungs of the mothers and enter their bloodstream. These particles have been found in placenta,” said professor Neil Thomas of the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Applied Health Research.

Dirty air can lead to birth defects, low birth weight, pre-term birth, and even mortality. Complications during pregnancy also put the mother at risk.

“Low birth weight, reduced lung and brain development will have long term impacts on the body,” said Thomas.

There is also recent initial evidence to suggest prenatal exposure to air pollution may alter newborn thyroid function.

It is not yet clear whether these health problems will then be passed down the generations, but there is initial research suggesting that exposure to tobacco smoke during pregnancy could increase the risk of asthma in children and grandchildren.

“This may provide a theoretical framework for considering a similar effect for air pollution in the future,” Breton said.

What can parents do?

The most effective action is to move away from polluted areas and while some health effects will last a lifetime, research shows that children who move to places with cleaner air see improved health, including better lung function and lung growth rates.

But for the many families who can’t move away, experts say there are still ways to minimise harm.

“When outdoors levels are high, try to stay indoors and refrain from excessive physical activity, walk down secondary roads rather than the main roads that are often more polluted,” said Thomas.

Indoors, families should avoid biomass burners, incense sticks, and open fires, he added. And in traffic, close off air intakes that can often suck in fumes from surrounding car exhausts.

AFP

Spain Temporarily Bans Vehicles In Crackdown on Pollution

Cars and buses ride over signs reading “Madrid Central” on Calle Alcala street in Madrid center, on November 30, 2018. The Spanish capital has introduced an anti-pollution plan, called Madrid Central, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the city center. JAVIER SORIANO / AFP

 

Madrid on Wednesday temporarily banned the oldest, most polluting vehicles from driving its streets, two weeks after new driving restrictions were introduced to fight air pollution in the centre of the Spanish capital.

The latest bid to reduce emissions comes as the city battles acutely high pollution levels, partly due to little wind.

Under the ban, gas vehicles made before 2000 and diesel vehicles manufactured before 2006 were prohibited from the city centre and surrounding M-30 ring road until Thursday daytime, the city hall said.

Cars meeting these criteria account for 17 percent of Madrid’s vehicles.

It is the first time that the city’s authorities have activated stage two of its new anti-pollution protocol which came into effect in October.

In addition to this protocol, Madrid’s left-wing city hall last month launched a separate traffic restriction scheme in the historic city centre, which aims to reduce gas emissions by 40 per cent.

The move by Madrid follows other European cities like London, Stockholm and Milan that have taken steps to restrict traffic in their centres — although they have charged drivers to enter.

In the Spanish capital, on the other hand, drivers of the oldest and most polluting vehicles have been banned from accessing the centre altogether and will face fines in the future if they do so.

With 3.2 million residents and some 1.8 million cars, Madrid often suffers from high pollution levels.

Located on a high plateau where atmospheric conditions routinely trap dirty air close to the ground level when there is little wind, Madrid’s smog is such a fixture that it has been given a nickname — “la boina” or “the beret”.

The city has attempted a number of initiatives in recent years, including in December 2016 when half of most private cars were ordered off the roads to fight a particularly bad bout of pollution.

AFP

Spain Launches Drastic Traffic Limits To Ease Pollution

Cars and buses ride over signs reading “Madrid Central” on Calle Alcala street in Madrid center, on November 30, 2018. The Spanish capital has introduced an anti-pollution plan, called Madrid Central, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the city centre. JAVIER SORIANO / AFP

 

Madrid on Friday launched an ambitious traffic restriction scheme in the city centre with which it hopes to reduce gas emissions by 40 per cent, drawing mixed reactions.

The “Madrid Central” system covers the Spanish capital’s historical centre and aims to “reduce pollution, noise and improve public spaces,” according to the left-wing city hall which points to the abundant offer of public transport and encourages cycling.

Madrid follows in the steps of other European cities like London, Stockholm or Milan that have restricted traffic in their centres.

In their case though, drivers can pay to enter.

In the Spanish capital, on the other hand, many drivers are banned altogether from accessing the centre and will be fined if they do.

Those who are allowed into the zone, marked off by a red line on the road, including residents, trucks carrying goods, taxis, buses, school, security and emergency vehicles.

Electric or hybrid vehicles belonging to non-residents are also allowed in, and the rest can only enter if they park in a parking lot.

Residents are also able to give out up to 20 invitations a month for people to enter without being fined.

In its first phase until the end of the year, authorities won’t be fining anyone and police will only inform drivers whether they can or cannot go in.

In January and February, people will start being notified of committing an offence, without having to pay a fine.

And from March, drivers who go in illegally will be fined 90 euros ($102).

Air pollution is a pressing issue in Madrid, where a murky cloud covers the capital on clear days.

But for some shopkeepers, it’s not entirely good news.

“They’re discriminating people according to their income levels,” said Fernando Ahumada, who owns a small cigarette shop in centre city.

“If you’re rich, there’s no problem. You buy yourself an electric car and you move around, but if you’re poor, in your car, you die.

“The fact a left-wing city hall is doing this is frightening.”

Ahumada says he fears his business income may drop as fewer people come to the centre.

But in the touristy, Las Letras district of Madrid, another shopkeeper, Juan Ramirez, supports the measure.

“I think it’s necessary, because you walk around and there are cars everywhere, and the air is filthy,” he says.

“People should use bicycles.”

AFP

Trump Administration Moves To Relax Coal Pollution Rules

US President Donald Trump speaks on immigration laws before the National Space Council meeting in the East Room of the White House on June 18, 2018 in Washington,DC.
Brendan SMIALOWSKI / AFP

 

President Donald Trump’s administration on Tuesday announced a plan to weaken regulations on US coal plants, giving a boost to an industry that former leader Barack Obama had hoped to wind down in order to cut harmful emissions that drive global warming.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s new Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule would allow states the flexibility to set their own standards for performance at existing coal-fired power plants, rather than follow a single federal standard.

The EPA says it is designed to replace Obama’s 2015 Clean Power Plan which called for cuts to greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, and a shift toward solar, wind, and less polluting natural gas.

The move marks the latest effort by Trump’s administration to roll back the environmental legacy of his Democratic predecessor, having pulled out of the 2015 Paris climate accord aimed at slashing global fossil fuel emissions.

Obama’s energy plan aimed to usher in the strictest anti-pollution measures in history on power plants but was put on hold in 2016 by the US Supreme Court.

Trump, whose ascent to the presidency effectively killed off the plan, had blasted it “intrusive” and claimed it would “kill jobs.”

The president is due to trumpet the new plan as he rallies supporters Tuesday night in the coal-producing state of West Virginia.

“The era of top-down, one-size-fits-all federal mandates is over,” said EPA acting administrator Andrew Wheeler, in a phone call with reporters.

The new plan could take months or even years to take effect. Legal challenges are already lining up, as the proposal awaits a 60-day comment period before it can be finalized.

Environmental advocates blasted the proposal, saying it will boost emissions from power plants, which emit about 28 per cent of US greenhouse gases and worsen global warming.

“The plan calls for only modest efficiency improvements at individual power plants, which will barely make a dent in cutting heat-trapping emissions from the electricity sector, and could even, under some circumstances, lead to increased emissions depending on how much the plants are run,” said Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“This proposal would also result in more pollution from nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, mercury and other harmful pollutants.”

Coal in decline

The White House said in a statement that if finalized, the rule “will significantly decrease bureaucratic red tape and compliance costs, keeping American energy affordable and competitive on the world stage.”

The White House claimed it would also save $6.4 billion in compliance costs for industry, compared to the Obama plan.

“We’re the only country in the world doing this, looking at coal as the future instead of understanding the future is about clean air, the future is about clean energy,” Gina McCarthy, the former EPA administrator under Obama, said on CNN.

Despite Trump’s support for coal plants, they continue to shut down. Some 40 per cent of coal plants in operation in 2010 are now closed or slated for closure, according to estimates from the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.

According to Bob Perciasepe, president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, “EPA is now proposing a plan that will essentially be ignored by most of the industry.”

Bill Wehrum, administrator for EPA’s office of Air and Radiation, acknowledged that the industry “continues to transform in front of our eyes,” he told reporters.

“What we see is an ongoing significant shift in the direction of natural gas and renewable energy generation.”

Wehrum said that because of the shifting energy landscape, he expected emissions to fall at a rate “roughly comparable” to the goals outlined under the Obama-era plan, which called for a 26 per cent cut in greenhouse gases from power plants by 2025, compared to 2005 levels.

Study Shows Degrading Plastics Emit Greenhouse Gases

This photo taken on July 16, 2018 shows volunteers sorting out plastic bottles at a recycling centre run by a non-profit Buddhist organisation in Taipei. Taiwan started recycling plastic more than a decade ago and today it boasts more than 70 percent recycling rates, according to the Environmental Protection Administration. Chris STOWERS / AFP

 

A study in the journal PLOS ONE on Wednesday found that degrading plastics emit powerful greenhouse gases like methane and ethylene, and are a previously unaccounted-for source of these heat-trapping pollutants.

Plastic water bottles, shopping bags, industrial plastics and food containers were all tested as part of the study.

The “most prolific emitter” was polyethylene, which is used in shopping bags and is the most produced and discarded synthetic polymer in the world, said the report.

Researchers have not yet calculated the level of harmful greenhouse gases emitted by plastics in the environment.

But with more than eight billion tons of plastic littering the planet — the lion’s share of which is not recyclable — and plastic production expected to double in the next two decades, they need to find out, said David Karl, the study’s senior author.

“Plastic represents a source of climate-relevant trace gases that is expected to increase as more plastic is produced and accumulated in the environment,” said Karl, a professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology.

“This source is not yet budgeted for when assessing global methane and ethylene cycles, and may be significant.”

Plastic is already known to release harmful chemicals into the water and soil.

And greenhouse gases have risen to all-time highs, causing the Earth to heat up and oceans to mount, threatening coastal communities worldwide.

“Considering the amounts of plastic washing ashore on our coastlines and the amount of plastic exposed to ambient conditions, our finding provides further evidence that we need to stop plastic production at the source, especially single use plastic,” said lead author Sarah-Jeanne Royer, a postdoctoral research fellow at UH’s International Pacific Research Center.

Ecuador Court Upholds $9.5bn Damages Ruling Against Chevron

 

 

Ecuador’s highest court upheld in a ruling released Tuesday a $9.5 billion damages award against oil giant Chevron over decades of pollution that harmed indigenous people.

But the decision by the Constitutional Court is largely symbolic because Chevron now owns no assets in Ecuador, meaning the country will have to keep pressing its case in foreign courts.

In a ruling dated June 27 and released Tuesday, the court said “there is no violation of the constitutional rights” of Chevron in throwing out its appeal of a lower Supreme Court ruling against it in 2013.

Chevron was sentenced in Ecuador over environmental damage blamed on Texaco, which Chevron acquired in 2001, in this country’s rainforest during oil operations from 1964 to 1990.

Chevron did not deny that pollution had occurred. But the company blamed it on state-run Petroecuador, with which Texaco worked in a consortium, and has refused to pay the settlement on the grounds that it was the result of fraud and bribes.

Chevron spokesman James Craig said in an email to AFP that the upholding of the damages award “is consistent with the pattern of denial of justice, fraud and corruption against Chevron in Ecuador.”

Pablo Fajardo, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, who include indigenous people, said Chevron cannot appeal the court’s decision.

As Chevron holds no assets in Ecuador, the plaintiffs have tried in vain to sue the company in the United States, Argentina, Brazil and Canada in order to have Chevron assets seized.

Although their case is now still alive only in Canada, Fajardo said “there is no turning back.”

“It might take us a bit longer in foreign courts, but Chevon must pay. It cannot act like a fugitive from justice forever,” he said.

The plaintiffs argued that spills of toxic chemicals during oil drilling operations contaminated groundwater and soil in indigenous communities that were home to 30,000 people in the eastern provinces of Sucumbios and Orellana.

AFP

‘Pollution Is The Biggest Killer On Earth’

Humans are poisoning their environment and themselves at an alarming rate, with pollution of the oceans, soil, and air now the biggest killer, a UN conference heard Monday.

Urging rapid and united action from governments, businesses and individual consumers, envoys underlined that nine million people are now killed by pollution every year — one in six global deaths.

“Pollution is the biggest killer on the planet and we need to defeat it,” UN Environment Programme head Erik Solheim said at the third UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) in Nairobi, Kenya.

Of the annual tally, nearly seven million people succumb from inhaling toxins in the air — from car exhaust fumes, factory emissions and indoor cooking with wood and coal, according to a recent report by The Lancet medical journal.

Lead in paint alone causes brain damage in more than half-a-million children every year.

Yet, as the human toll keeps rising, so does the trashing.

“Over 80 percent of the world’s wastewater is released into the environment without treatment,” Ligia Noronha, director of the UN Environment Programme’s economy division, told journalists at the assembly.

“Close to 50 million tonnes of e-waste are produced every year.”

Garbage lie at Dbayeh’s seaside shore north of Beirut on November 28, 2017, after it was washed away by the sea from the nearby seaside garbage dump of Karanatina. JOSEPH EID / AFP

The UNEA is the highest decision-making forum on issues concerning the natural environment, with all 193 UN member countries represented.

It gathered environment ministers and deputies from more than 100 countries in the Kenyan capital from Monday to Wednesday, to thrash out the wording of a global, political declaration entitled: “Towards a Pollution-Free Planet”.

– ‘A problem of human rights’ –

The pact will commit UN member countries to limiting humankind’s fouling of the planet with chemicals, non-biodegradable litter, and toxic smoke.

The ministers are also negotiating a number of specific anti-pollution resolutions to limit the amount of fish-choking plastic that finds its way into the ocean, for example, and to stop the use of lead in paint.

The recent report by The Lancet said welfare costs associated with pollution, including medical costs, were nearly $5 trillion (4.2 trillion euros) a year — more than six percent of global economic output.

“It’s not just a problem of health. It’s not just a problem of productivity and implications to the economy, but it’s also very much a problem of human rights,” said Noronha.

“People have a right to live in clean environments.”

The president of the UNEA meeting, Costa Rica’s environment minister Edgar Gutierrez, said he had urged government representatives to set aside narrow national interests and look past contentious issues to find “common ground”.

“Looking at the whole, we have done a very bad job taking care of our environment,” he said.

“And the worst part of this is that we have very little room now to make mistakes.”

The assembly gathered more than 4,500 participants including government representatives, NGOs, scientists and business people.

Aside from outright poisoning, pollution causes an array of deadly ailments such as heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

AFP

Cameroon Fights Pollution By Turning Used Plastic Into Jobs

Plastic waste has become a major problem in Cameroon’s capital, Yaoundé clogging up drains and rivers and causing flooding in the city whenever it rains.

Cameroon’s government has been trying to tackle the country’s plastic pollution troubles for years, but with little success.

Cheaper than other alternatives, plastic bags and bottles are popular in a place where the average income is less than 500 Central African francs (cfa) ($5) a day, and laws aimed at curbing the use and sale of disposable plastics remain ineffective.

Yaounde’s streets are littered with piles of plastic bags and bottles and residents are worried.

“When it rains, the river floods and the plastic bottles come all the way to our houses. They also cause us to get sick and they also emit a foul smell. We cannot sit in our compounds because of the polluted air, we only breathe in bad air,” said one resident Evelyn Massock.

An initiative by one of the country’s most prominent personalities, retired Cameroonian footballer Roger Milla is hoping to solve the problem by turning plastic waste into building material.

Milla is already famous for being the oldest goal scorer – at age 42 – in World Cup history.

And now the footballer is proving an unlikely hero in Cameroon’s struggle against climate change-related flooding as well as pollution.

Through his organisation Coeur d’Afrique (Heart of Africa), which helps abandoned children, Milla is fighting pollution, while also tackling youth unemployment.

In a collaboration between local councils and garbage-collection company Hysacam, Coeur d’Afrique employs over 300 youths in various Yaounde neighbourhoods to regularly collect plastic from garbage cans, gutters and streams.

They work three days a week for 2,500 cfa ($5) a day.

“My foundation which deals with the environment came here to help clear all this waste, and clear the river of plastic waste which has been affecting the local population and also allow water to flow as it should,” he said.

The waste is picked up by Hysacam and sorted, then another group of young people – different from those collecting the plastic – melt it down in a large tank over a wood fire.

They later add sand to the molten plastic and pour the hot mixture into moulds.

The process doesn’t need water and the slabs set and dry at room temperature within 15 minutes, as opposed to the 24 hours it takes conventional sand-and-cement-based products, according to the Director General of Coeur d’ Afrique, Arsel Etoundi.

“We think that it’s a good project for the future of tour country, especially when it comes to the fight against pollution. It’s also good because this is also a source of revenue and job creation for young Cameroonian youths,” Director General for Coeur D’ Afrique, Arsel Etoundi.

The plastic slabs are cheaper than concrete ones, costing 3,500 cfa ($5.40) per square meter compared to 5,000 cfa ($8.50).

And, approved as sustainable by the country’s National Civil Engineering Laboratory, they are environmentally friendly and waterproof, meaning they can also be used in marshy areas and in the building of septic tanks.

The recycled slabs have already been used by the Yaounde city council for various projects and by the National Olympic sports committee in the construction of the national handball field, officials say.

“As a former major star, he wanted to use his platform to lend his voice to the fight against pollution in Cameroon. He also wanted to help the youth of Cameroon who are in the street and wanted to help them find jobs,” said Pancrace Fegue, a Senior Official at Coeur d’Afrique.

So far over 750 youths have been trained in the process of making the plastic slabs.

The project aims to train a total of 2,500 people by the end of 2017, according to officials from the foundation.

Chinese Factory Accused Of Polluting Gambia’s Coastline

Gambian Authorities Ban Internet, International Calls During ElectionGambia’s National Environmental Agency (NEA) has agreed to settle out of court with Chinese-owned Golden Lead fishmeal factory, which it had taken to court for pollution and flouting proper waste management regulations.

Golden Lead has to pay a bond of 25,000 US dollars, take immediate measures to treat its wastewater and pay for testing of already contaminated water.

When contacted by Reuters, the company’s owners declined to comment but had earlier denied dumping wastewater into the sea.

“They were supposed to have a waste treatment plant in the sea too on the factory itself. So that they treat their wastewater and then they apply for a discharge permit. So that we are able to conduct a water quality analyses test to ensure that we establish that the wastewater that they discharge into the waterbody is not going to cause any harm. But then, unfortunately, they did not do or they are yet to install that water treatment plant,” said Lamin Samateh, senior environmental inspector at the NEA

The dispute started in May when thousands of dead fish washed up on the beach in Gunjur, a small fishing town in the south-west of the country.

The water in the nearby lagoon in Bolong Fenyo Wildlife Reserve also turned red overnight.

Initially, environmentalists were up in arms because they thought effluent waste from Golden Lead’s factory had killed the fish but later found they had been dumped there by Gambian and Senegalese fishermen unable to sell their catch to the fishmeal makers.

NEA has fined some of the fishermen and has reached an agreement with the factory stopping them from making orders where they cannot guarantee purchase to the local fishermen.

Local fisherman, Omar says his colleagues had no choice.

“Yes, because the Chinese people call them and give them money and they cannot buy all. The fish, they are already dead, where you can… you will drop them. Because of this, all blame is these people. Because they are the people who call them to bring in more fish. They are the ones who request. So why you cannot buy all, if you cannot request all. Why you call all,” he said.

After a few days, the water regained most of its natural colour, but tests found it was still unsafe.

Badara Bajo from the Gunjur Environmental Protection and Development Group in Gambia (GEPADG) monitors the reserve.

He convinced the government to give it a protected status – a first in the country.

Bajo wants the Golden Lead factory shut down.

“Really, really mad and very much uncomfortable because we spent a lot of energy, lots of time for so many many years and to see that arriving at an endpoint within a second it is just devastating. It’s just driving us crazy,” said Bajo.

Golden Lead has also been ordered to remove the waste water pipes going to sea, cooperate on ecological assessment and pay for water testing and work on correcting the damage already done.

“What they could do now in the absence of a wastewater treatment plant is to make sure that all their waste water is collected to a wastewater treatment facility which is somewhere in Kotu, some several kilometres from their location. They were doing that, but along the way, I want to believe that the cost implication is not sustainable. So instead of asking for advice on the next course of action or to undertake some kind of financial expenses to implement certain strategies to make sure that their wastewater is treated before it’s discharged, they secretly connected a pipe that discharges wastewater from their plant into the ocean. And this was discovered by the local community. Who reported to us and then we took action,” said Samateh.

West Africa has some of the richest waters in the world, but fish stocks are being depleted as industrial trawlers, some operating illegally, comb the oceans from the seabed to the surface, environmental group Greenpeace says.

Chinese fishing operations especially have been accused of double standards, as China improves sustainability provisions in its own domestic legislation while continuing to defy laws in Africa.