Bound for Indonesia

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In the United States, everyone talks about going green, but in other places around the world, sites exist where green is a fantasy. First you have to deal with the ‘brown’ problem. You have to deal with the dirty, filthy trouble that kills several million people a year, and which — if left unmitigated — will only worsen as years go on.

Did You Know?

In the Zambian Copperbelt, a plot of land the size of two hundred football fields stretches beside the town of Kabwe (population 200,000). Nearly every inch of the plot is lead by-product from the ancient smelter nearby, and nearly every person in Kabwe suffers from lead poisoning. It’s in the water, it’s in the soil. Worst of all, it’s in the children, many of whom are born mentally retarded.

In Gorlovka, Ukraine, former Soviet apparatchiks cannily stockpiled tons of degrading TNT next to several thousand gallons of highly-flammable mononitrochlorobenzene deposited from a local dye factory (aka: a former Soviet chemical weapons plant). This place is so volatile that a carelessly-dropped cigarette butt could make the whole place to go up, causing what experts call a disaster that would dwarf Chernobyl and Bhopal combined. You can read about this in a recent Huffington Post article.

This summer, Damon will head for Indonesia on behalf of Richard Fuller, founder of the Blacksmith Institute. Blacksmith is an NGO that works under grants from foreign nations, and global entities like the EU and IMF. In just a few years, it has become the world’s leading solution provider for pollution problems in low and middle-income countries where human health is at risk.

Put more bluntly, Blacksmith tackles the world’s most toxic places: man-made hells-on-earth in countries as far-flung as China, India, Senegal, Nigeria, Ukraine, Mozambique, Cambodia, the Dominican Republic, and more.

The number of people poisoned or killed by man-made pollutants each year is comparable to the number of people affected by HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria combined. Potential health problems include reduced neurological development, mental retardation, damaged immune systems, cancer, so on.

These toxic sites are usually the detritus left over from overthrown regimes, thugocracy industrialists, and colonialism. They constitute humanitarian crises which are either too ugly or too embarrasing for struggling administrations to associate themselves with. That’s where Blacksmith comes in.

The Institute practices real boots-on-the-ground style remediation. They don’t sit around writing inconsequential white papers, they dispatch experts who assess the situation, figure out how best to clean up the mess, and get to work saving people’s lives.

In Jakarta, Damon will survey sites where the unchecked dumping of lead has engendered a robust black market among the citizenry while slowly poisoning them.

In Central Kalimantan (Borneo), Damon will investigate the practice of artisanal small scale gold mining (ASGM). While the term may may sound quaint, ASGM involves the use of liquid mercury to extract gold from raw ore. Miners who practice this technique often end up poisoning themselves, their families, and their communities. And of course, the mercury they release enters the global food supply. Little known fact: ASGM is one of two leading causes of potentially toxic mercury levels in staple fish like tuna.