David Boyd, a UN expert, is warning about pollution in “sacrifice zones” all around the world. A sacrifice zone is an area that has been permanently damaged by environmental changes like pollution. These zones are most common in low-income and minority communities.

Worldwide, these sacrifice zones are causing strokes, cancer, respiratory problems, and heart disease to tens of millions of people due to the toxic contamination in the environment. The pollution causes public health issues, and Boyd notes it causes “incredible mental health problems associated with living in these places because people feel exploited, they feel stigmatized.”

The people who live in these areas do not choose for the pollution to be there or contribute to the polluted environment. This is an issue of their fundamental human rights.

“Their rights to life, their rights to health, and … their right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. You cannot reconcile that fundamental right to a healthy environment with these absolutely horrific environmental conditions,” said Boyd.

In a UN report by the human rights council, they found that pollution contributed to twice as many premature deaths as COVID-19 did in the first 18 months of the pandemic. The death toll from pollution is estimated to be around 9 million.

The report notes, “One in six deaths in the world involves diseases caused by pollution, three times more than deaths from Aids, malaria, and tuberculosis combined and 15 times more than from all wars, murders and other forms of violence.”

There is so much pollution in the environment, and oftentimes, specific communities are affected much more than others. Boyd pointed out that even though pollution affects everyone, it affects some people and communities in extremely disproportionate and unfair ways.

A heartbreaking sacrifice zone is in Kabwe, Zambia. Kabwe has been dubbed the ‘world’s most toxic town’ according to pollution experts. It’s reported that 95% of the children there have elevated levels of lead in their blood. This puts them at risk for lifelong intellectual impairment and many other health risks.

After a century of lead mining in the area, the devastating consequences remain. The fumes from the old state-owned smelter, which closed in 1994, have left the area with dangerously high lead levels. The potent neurotoxin is still used in many car batteries. The neurotoxin is extremely dangerous to children, and even after almost 30 years, children are still poisoned from the lasting toxins every day.

The lead levels in the blood of children in Kabwe are over 45 micrograms per deciliter, with the safe limit being 5. A level of 45 can cause brain, liver, and hearing damage. The study also found eight children with levels over 150 micrograms per deciliter, which is likely to result in death.

Another sacrifice zone is the infamous ‘Cancer Alley’ in Louisiana, which is an 85 mile stretch of over 150 oil refineries, plastic plants, and chemical facilities.

“The United States, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, one of the wealthiest countries in all of human history, is home to one of the worst sacrifice zones on the planet. This place, it’s called ‘cancer alley’ in Louisiana, where there are more than a hundred oil refineries, petrochemical plants, etc. And guess where they’re located? In poor, predominantly black communities. It’s just, as I said, it’s unconscionable.” said Boyd.

A chemical firm, Denka, is located here and is the only site in the U.S. to emit chloroprene, an extremely toxic pollutant. The plant regularly exceeds the EPA’s lifetime exposure guidance, which endangers the surrounding community, and is also located near a school.

The EPA plans to regulate better and oversee these plants that are causing horrifying levels of toxicity in the air, but the damage has unfortunately already been done. However, this will finally be a step towards equality for the surrounding low-income populations and people of color who the air quality has impacted for decades.

Businesses and greedy corporations are the reason for most of the world’s pollution. They are often fine with ignoring social and environmental costs if that means a bigger buck in their pocket. The world spends a whopping $1.8 trillion per year on subsidies that harm the environment. These subsidies are driving the extinction of wildlife and raising the global temperature. They range from tax breaks for harmful beef production in the Amazon to funding unsustainable groundwater pumping in the Middle East. We are financing our own planet’s extinction.

“[Oil and gas companies are] not going to voluntarily stop producing oil and gas; big coal companies are not going to voluntarily shift from being big coal companies to being big solar and wind companies: governments have to do that, that’s their job, it’s governments that have the obligations to respect, protect and fulfil our human rights,” Boyd said.

Last year, the UN human rights council acknowledged for the first time that everyone has a human right to live in a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment. Hopefully, this will lead to more laws and regulations surrounding pollution and help these communities who have been wrongfully exposed to these horrifying chemicals. Humans deserve to breathe clean air and live in clean environments. The world could use the $1.8 trillion they spend on the climate-harming subsidies for good and cleaning the planet before it’s too late!

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