As countries gain economic growth and individuals gain spending power, more consumer products are being developed to satisfy this need, creating demand for product manufacturing, the general term for industries that produce consumer goods. Product manufacturing is a major contributor to individual country GDP and the global economy. The World Economic Forum reports that 70 percent of country GDP variations can be explained by differences in the amount of manufactured products exported1. Reduction of trade barriers, improved geopolitical relationships, and the improvement of infrastructure and technologies have all enabled this expansion and the global spread of product manufacturing2. Due to globalization and efforts to incentivize manufacturing, some countries have been slow to apply regulations and/or have not been vigorous in ensuring that companies comply with environmental standards. The result, in some places, has been widespread pollution problems associated with product manufacturing.
Product manufacturing pollution is an issue at more than 100 sites in the Pure Earth’s database, and potentially exposes almost 2.3 million people to toxic pollutants. More than half of the sites are located in South Asia and Southeast Asia where regulations on product manufacturing are not always strongly enforced. Other regions represented include several African countries and China. China is second in the world in manufacturing and produces 15 percent of the worlds manufactured products3.
Product manufacturing at the 100 sites in the database potentially exposes almost 2.3 million people to toxic pollutants and is estimated to result in approximately 400,000 to 725,000 DALYs. The contribution to these DALYs is nearly evenly split between lead and (hexavalent) chromium exposure. Like industrial estates, product-manufacturing sites release a diverse mix of pollutants. Lead and chromium are the top pollutants identified in the Pure Earth’s database information. There could potentially be a much higher impact from the cumulative impact of combined pollutants, including possible pollutants not yet identified and measured in our site investigations. As a result, this DALY calculation is very likely an underestimate.
Although pollutants vary based on each manufacturing site, Pure Earth surveys have identified the principal pollutants to be lead, mercury and chromium, which are identified as top pollutants in this report. Other pollutants are cadmium, arsenic, cyanide, dioxins, sulfur dioxide and VOCs. Combined health effects from these pollutants include neurological, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular and renal system problems and lung cancer.
Pathways for pollutants vary widely across types of product manufacturing; in general they include emissions from energy sources used to power production, emissions from incineration of waste products or heating during processes, and improper disposal of solid waste and wastewater. Some product industries use massive amounts of water, while other types of plants emit large amounts of emissions into the air. The majority of pollutant exposures in Pure Earth’s database derive from inhalation of contaminated dust, soil or gases and ingestion of contaminated water. Other pathways include burning of solid waste. The chromium pollution at these sites is through both groundwater and air emissions.
3. Veiga, M.M. et al. “Abandoned artisanal gold mines in the Brazilian Amazon: A legacy of mercury pollution.” Natural Resources Forum 26 (2002) 15–26