Commission Co-Chair: Richard Fuller

“We have to stop poisoning ourselves. The impact of pollution is huge – at least one death in every six. It is just too much. Especially because we know it need not be that bad. There are well tested, low-cost strategies that work to keep pollution in control. We need to prioritize pollution as it affects us all. Pollution has no boundaries.”

Richard Fuller, President, Pure Earth. (Bio below)

Why focus on pollution?

Despite its high toll, pollution is often ignored or overshadowed by other other global issues. In some ways it is invisible. While pollution kills millions, it rarely kills people directly or quickly. Instead, it causes heart disease, chest infections, cancers, respiratory diseases, or diarrhea. Pollution acts as a catalyst, increasing the rates of these diseases above those by which they would normally occur. Which is why WHO considers pollution a “risk factor”—a similar threat to human health as obesity, smoking, malnutrition, or poor exercise.

But pollution is the king of all risk factors. Worldwide, its fatality numbers dwarf those caused by any other risk factor in any other context whatsoever. But sadly, very little is done to combat it. This has been going on for decades now.  Before I established Pure Earth, I did a lot of research and talked to many leaders across various industries to pinpoint a problem that few were looking at. And the conversation always returned to pollution.  It kills more people than HIV, TB and malaria, yet it receives a fraction of the funding.

Why was the Commission necessary?

We need to hit everyone on the head with this report. It is a huge global problem that affects the global economy. Everyone is affected. From poor children, who bear the brunt of pollution’s toll, suffering from daily poisoning, to the richest magnate. We all inhabit the same world. With the Commission, we’ve brought together the best minds to look at the issue across disciplines to offer the clearest picture of pollution’s impact, along with tried and tested solutions that have worked to bring pollution under control in many richer countries.  The data and facts gathered by the Commission are also key to debunking some long-held myths. Decision makers the world over need to know that pollution is NOT inevitable, and that pollution control does not have to come at the expense of economic growth.  With so many experts standing united behind our report, the world must listen.

What’s next?

We urge everyone to take action. From the general public to government officials, decision makers, international agencies and funders. Last year, we succeeded in pushing for a broader definition of pollution to be included in the SDGs. That was a step in getting pollution on the world’s agenda. The Commission report will take it to the next level. The report offers solutions that low- and middle-income countries most affected by pollution can use.  Also coming up is a Global Pollution Observatory partnership with the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAHP)  that will get more data out there about pollution. At the same time, GAHP will continue helping low- and middle-income countries deal with pollution and prioritize cleanup with the Health and Pollution planning process.  And of course Pure Earth will continue work on the ground, doing actual cleanup.

Richard Fuller founded Pure Earth (formerly known as the Blacksmith Institute) in 1999 as the only organization focused on pollution cleanup on a global scale.  Over the years, he has assembled a comprehensive database of knowledge and information that is being used by Pure Earth’s network of project managers around the world to clean up the worst polluted sites efficiently and effectively. This includes Pure Earth’s global inventory of polluted sites, the Toxic Sites Identification Program, the world’s worst polluted places reports, the Health and Pollution Planning Process for low- and middle-income countries, and more. In 2012, Fuller began building an international alliance with the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution, an international collaborative body formed by Pure Earth, World Bank, UNEP, UNDP, UNIDO, Asian Development Bank, the European Commission, Ministries of Environment and Health of many low- and middle-income countries to address pollution and health at scale. This lead to the creation of the Commission on Pollution and Health.

Born in Australia, Fuller graduated with a degree in engineering from Melbourne University and began his career at IBM. He left Australia in 1988 to work directly on global environmental issues. He spent two years in the rainforests of Brazil with the United Nations Environmental Programme creating forest reserves promoting the preservation of both the rainforest and its inhabitants. He then headed to New York City, establishing Great Forest Inc., now one of the most successful sustainability consulting companies in the US, and among the first to bring sustainability practices to the business world, helping to pave the way for the rise of corporate social responsibility. But even as he helped big businesses become more sustainable, Fuller realized that he had to deal with the problem from both ends to really make a difference.  So he shifted his focus to poor countries and to global pollution.

He is the author of the book The Brown Agenda, in which he chronicles cleanup efforts in some of the world’s worst polluted places.

The Commission on Pollution and Health is an initiative of The Lancet, the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAHP), and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Commissioners include many of the world’s leading researchers and practitioners in the fields of pollution management, environmental health and sustainable development.  

Partnering to Solve Pollution Problems

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