Boston College has established the Global Observatory on Pollution and Health to track efforts to control pollution and prevent pollution-related diseases that account for an estimated 9 million deaths worldwide each year, the University announced today.
The observatory, directed by public health expert and Professor of Biology Philip J. Landrigan, MD, takes shape as BC develops the Schiller Institute for Integrated Science and Society, the centerpiece of a $150-million life sciences facility slated to begin construction on campus next year.
"The Observatory is going to take on major issues at the intersection of pollution, human health and public policy," said Landrigan. "We'll study particular segments of the problem - how it affects particular countries, different populations, like children, or particular diseases, like cancer. Our reports will be disseminated broadly and aimed at the general public as well as policy makers. What we want to do is mobilize society to see pollution as a serious threat, change public policy, prevent pollution and, ultimately, save lives."
The observatory will collaborate with the Center for Climate, Health and the Global Environment at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, directed by former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.
The study center will focus its investigative lens on the impact of pollution upon issues including children's health and adolescent health, cardiovascular disease and death, cancer, and the loss of "human capital" caused by toxic pollutants that impair brain function in children. Priority toxins to study include asbestos, lead, and mercury.
Landrigan and BC officials signed a memorandum of understanding with the United Nations Environment agency today, establishing the Observatory's first partnership in advance of a study of pollution in India, said Landrigan.
Erik Solheim, Under Secretary General of the UN and Executive Director of the UN Environment said: "Air pollution is one of the biggest public health emergencies of our time. I welcome the partnership between UN Environment and Boston College in providing us high-quality, real-time data to tackle air pollution. Importantly, by providing us early warnings of air quality issues, we will have the science we need to chart a course for cleaner air for all."
The Observatory was inspired by the groundbreaking Commission on Pollution and Health established by the British medical journal The Lancet. Landrigan, BC Vice Provost for Research Thomas Chiles, and Dean of the School of Social Work Gautam Yadama served on the commission, which concluded pollution sources lead to approximately 9 million premature deaths per year - 16 percent of all deaths worldwide.
The Lancet commission also found that the tools needed to control pollution and prevent pollution-related disease already exist, but need to be more evenly distributed.
"The Observatory will add significant transnational and multidisciplinary collaborations to Boston College's global public health initiatives," said Chiles. "The University's strategic goals ask us to draw upon our world-class faculty and scientific research to make an impact in the world - not just in the lab, but in society. We think this initiative can touch the lives of people in the U.S. and around the globe."
The Observatory would provide oversight in order to effectively track the global deployment of these tools and monitor progress on pollution control.
"What makes the Observatory different is the comprehensive nature of our analyses," said Landrigan. "There are other institutions looking at air pollution, but no one else is looking at all the different forms of pollution. As a pediatrician, I think we'll be very well positioned to look at impact of pollution on the health of children, who are highly vulnerable and often suffer the greatest burden of disease and death caused by pollution."