Clinical Professor of Environmental Public Health Sciences in the Department of Global and Environmental Health
For Dr. Jack Caravanos, life in the field ranges from jumping onto a motorcycle and navigating the jungles of Madre de Dios in the Peruvian Amazon studying toxic substances to traveling to remotes areas in Zambia, Indonesia, and Bolivia studying lead and other toxic wastes. By cooperating with local governments, his work provides safe, healthy, and evidence-based solutions for pollution problems in low- and middle-income countries.
In partnership with Pure Earth, an international non-profit organization, Dr. Caravanos is studying the impact of gold extraction with mercury in Peru and Indonesia. Since miners are in danger of mercury poisoning, his research team is planning interventions that teach safer techniques for gold extraction. In Kabwe, Zambia - a mining town with exposure to lead - his research will provide methods to institute safer mining practices and policy recommendations to improve environmental remediation laws.
Dr. Caravanos teaches Environmental Health for graduate students and Environmental Health in a Global World for undergraduate students. He also provides opportunities for student researchers in his ongoing projects, including in Indonesia (mercury) and Ghana (e-waste).
To learn more about Dr. Caravanos and his work, visit his website.
BS, Health Science, Hunter College, New York, NYMS, Environmental Health Engineering, New York University, New York, NYDrPH, Environmental Health, Columbia University, New York, NY
Presidential Award for Excellence in Community Service, Hunter College (2013)Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching, Hunter College (2006)
Artisanal Gold MiningDissemination and Implementation of Evidence-based ProgramsEnvironmental Public Health ServicesGlobal HealthLead poisoning
Efficacy of Grignard Pure to Inactivate Airborne Phage MS2, a Common SARS-CoV-2 Surrogate
Lead Levels in a Potters Population and Its Association With the Use of Different Glazes: Cross-Sectional Evaluation of the Approved Pottery Program
Pollution and health: a progress updateFuller, R., Landrigan, P. J., Balakrishnan, K., Bathan, G., Bose-O’Reilly, S., Brauer, M., Caravanos, J., Chiles, T., Cohen, A., Corra, L., Cropper, M., Ferraro, G., Hanna, J., Hanrahan, D., Hu, H., Hunter, D., Janata, G., Kupka, R., Lanphear, B., … Yan, C. (n.d.).
Journal titleThe Lancet Planetary Health
Page(s)e535-e547AbstractThe Lancet Commission on pollution and health reported that pollution was responsible for 9 million premature deaths in 2015, making it the world's largest environmental risk factor for disease and premature death. We have now updated this estimate using data from the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuriaes, and Risk Factors Study 2019. We find that pollution remains responsible for approximately 9 million deaths per year, corresponding to one in six deaths worldwide. Reductions have occurred in the number of deaths attributable to the types of pollution associated with extreme poverty. However, these reductions in deaths from household air pollution and water pollution are offset by increased deaths attributable to ambient air pollution and toxic chemical pollution (ie, lead). Deaths from these modern pollution risk factors, which are the unintended consequence of industrialisation and urbanisation, have risen by 7% since 2015 and by over 66% since 2000. Despite ongoing efforts by UN agencies, committed groups, committed individuals, and some national governments (mostly in high-income countries), little real progress against pollution can be identified overall, particularly in the low-income and middle-income countries, where pollution is most severe. Urgent attention is needed to control pollution and prevent pollution-related disease, with an emphasis on air pollution and lead poisoning, and a stronger focus on hazardous chemical pollution. Pollution, climate change, and biodiversity loss are closely linked. Successful control of these conjoined threats requires a globally supported, formal science–policy interface to inform intervention, influence research, and guide funding. Pollution has typically been viewed as a local issue to be addressed through subnational and national regulation or, occasionally, using regional policy in higher-income countries. Now, however, it is increasingly clear that pollution is a planetary threat, and that its drivers, its dispersion, and its effects on health transcend local boundaries and demand a global response. Global action on all major modern pollutants is needed. Global efforts can synergise with other global environmental policy programmes, especially as a large-scale, rapid transition away from all fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy is an effective strategy for preventing pollution while also slowing down climate change, and thus achieves a double benefit for planetary health.
Probabilistic estimates of prenatal lead exposure at 195 toxic hotspots in low- and middle-income countriesZajac, L., Kobrosly, R. W., Ericson, B., Caravanos, J., Landrigan, P. J., & Riederer, A. M. (n.d.).
Journal titleEnvironmental Research
Volume183AbstractBackground: Prior estimates of pediatric lead-related disease burden in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) used population estimates of maternal blood lead levels (BLLs). This approach may underestimate fetal BLLs by not considering potentially high prenatal lead exposure from toxic hotspots. Objectives: We developed a probabilistic approach to using the Adult Lead Methodology (ALM) to estimate fetal BLLs from prenatal exposure to lead-contaminated soil at hotspots in the Toxic Site Identification Program (TSIP). Methods: We created distributions for each ALM parameter using published literature and extracted soil lead measurements from the TSIP database. Each iteration of the probabilistic ALM randomly selected values from the input distributions to generate a site-specific fetal BLL estimate. For each site, we ran 5000 model iterations, producing a site-specific fetal BLL distribution. Results: 195 TSIP sites, in 33 LMICs, met our study inclusion criteria; an estimated 820,000 women of childbearing age are at risk for lead exposure at these sites. The predicted geometric means (GM) for site-specific fetal BLLs ranged from 3.3 μg/dL to 534 μg/dL, and 98% of sites had estimated GM fetal BLLs >5 μg/dL, the current reference level of the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), while 11 sites had estimated GM fetal BLLs above the CDC chelation threshold of 45 μg/dL. Discussion: The TSIP soil lead data and this probabilistic approach to the ALM show that pregnant women living near TSIP sites may have BLLs that put their fetus at risk for neurologic damage and other sequelae, underscoring the need for interventions to reduce lead exposure at toxic hotspots.
Assessment of the prevalence of lead-based paint exposure risk in Jakarta, Indonesia
Conflicting conclusions or competing methodologies? Documenting soil lead pollution in Owino Uhuru, Kenya
A meta-analysis of blood lead levels in India and the attributable burden of diseaseEricson, B., Dowling, R., Dey, S., Caravanos, J., Mishra, N., Fisher, S., Ramirez, M., Sharma, P., McCartor, A., Guin, P., Taylor, M. P., & Fuller, R. (n.d.).
Journal titleEnvironment international
Page(s)461-470AbstractMultiple studies in India have found elevated blood lead levels (BLLs) in target populations. However the data have not yet been evaluated to understand population-wide exposure levels. We used arithmetic mean blood lead data published from 2010 to 2018 on Indian populations to calculate the average BLLs for multiple subgroups. We then calculated the attributable disease burden in IQ decrement and Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs). Our Pubmed search yielded 1066 articles. Of these, 31 studies representing the BLLs of 5472 people in 9 states met our study criteria. Evaluating these, we found a mean BLL of 6.86 μg/dL (95% CI: 4.38–9.35) in children and 7.52 μg/dL (95% CI: 5.28–9.76) in non-occupationally exposed adults. We calculated that these exposures resulted in 4.9 million DALYs (95% CI: 3.9–5.6) in the states we evaluated. Population-wide BLLs in India remain elevated despite regulatory action to eliminate leaded petrol, the most significant historical source. The estimated attributable disease burden is larger than previously calculated, particularly with regard to associated intellectual disability outcomes in children. Larger population-wide BLL studies are required to inform future calculations. Policy responses need to be developed to mitigate the worst exposures.
Cost Effectiveness of Environmental Lead Risk Mitigation in Low-and Middle-Income Countries
Geo-Spatial Characterization of Soil Mercury and Arsenic at a High-Altitude Bolivian Gold MineJohnson, G. D., Pavilonis, B., Caravanos, J., & Grassman, J. (n.d.).
Journal titleBulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology
Page(s)259-264AbstractSoil mercury concentrations at a typical small-scale mine site in the Bolivian Andes were elevated (28–737 mg/kg or ppm) in localized areas where mercury amalgams were either formed or vaporized to release gold, but was not detectable beyond approximately 10 m from its sources. Arsenic was measurable, exceeding known background levels throughout the mine site (77–137,022 ppm), and was also measurable through the local village of Ingenio (36–1803 ppm). Although arsenic levels were high at all surveyed locations, its spatial pattern followed mercury, being highest where mercury was high.
Lead intoxicated children in Kabwe, ZambiaBose-O’Reilly, S., Yabe, J., Makumba, J., Schutzmeier, P., Ericson, B., & Caravanos, J. (n.d.).
Journal titleEnvironmental Research
Page(s)420-424AbstractKabwe is a lead contaminated mining town in Zambia. Kabwe has extensive lead contaminated soil and children in Kabwe ingest and inhale high quantities of this toxic dust. The aim of this paper is to analyze the health impact of this exposure for children. Health data from three existing studies were re-analyzed. Over 95% of children living in the most affected townships had high blood lead levels (BLLs) > 10 µg/dL. Approximately 50% of those children had BLLs ≥ 45 µg/dL. The existing data clearly establishes the presence of a severe environmental health crisis in Kabwe which warrants immediate attention.
Pollution and global health – An agenda for prevention
Prevention-intervention strategies to reduce exposure to e-waste
Characterization and risk of exposure to elements from artisanal gold mining operations in the Bolivian Andes
Environmental contamination in NigeriaCaravanos, J. (n.d.).
Journal titleJournal of Health and Pollution
Burden of disease resulting from lead exposure at toxic waste sites in Argentina, Mexico and Uruguay
Estimating the Prevalence of Toxic Waste Sites in Low- and Middle-Income CountriesDowling, R., Caravanos, J., Grigsby, P., Rivera, A., Ericson, B., Amoyaw-Osei, Y., Akuffo, B., & Fuller, R. (n.d.).
Journal titleAnnals of Global Health
Page(s)700-710AbstractBackground Exposure to heavy metals at contaminated industrial and mining sites, known also as hot spots, is a significant source of toxic exposure and adverse health outcomes in countries around the world. The Toxic Sites Identification Program (TSIP) developed by Pure Earth, a New York–based nongovernmental organization, is the only systematic effort to catalogue contaminated sites globally. To date, TSIP has identified and catalogued 3282 sites in low- and middle-income countries. The TSIP methodology is not designed to survey all contaminated sites in a country. Rather sites are prioritized based on their perceived impact on human health, and only a limited number of the most highly hazardous sites are surveyed. The total number of contaminated sites globally and the fraction of contaminated sites captured by TSIP is not known. Objective To determine the TSIP site capture rate, the fraction of contaminated sites in a country catalogued by TSIP. Methods Ghana was selected for this analysis because it is a rapidly industrializing lower middle income country with a heterogeneous industrial base, a highly urban population (51%), and good public records systems. To develop an estimate of the fraction of sites in Ghana captured by TSIP, assessors targeted randomly selected geographic quadrats for comprehensive assessment using area and population statistics from the Ghana Statistical Service. Investigators physically walked all accessible streets in each quadrat to visually identify all sites. Visual identification was supplemented by field-based confirmation with portable x-ray fluorescence instruments to test soils for metals. To extrapolate from survey findings to develop a range of estimates for the entire country, the investigators used 2 methodologies: a “bottom-up” approach that first estimated the number of waste sites in each region and then summed these regional subtotals to develop a total national estimate; and a “top-down” method that estimated the total number of sites in Ghana and then allocated these sites to each region. Both methods used cluster random sampling principles. Findings The investigators identified 72 sites in the sampled quadrats. Extrapolating from these findings to the entire country, the first methodology estimated that there are 1561 sites contaminated by heavy metals in Ghana (confidence interval [CI]: 1134-1987), whereas the second estimated 1944 sites (CI: 812-3075). The estimated total number of contaminated sites in Ghana is thus 7-9 times the number of sites captured through TSIP. On a population basis, it was estimated that there are between 31 and 115 contaminated sites per million inhabitants in Ghana. Conclusions The findings of this study indicate that the TSIP methodology provides a sound statistical basis for policy formulation. The statistical approaches used in this study can be replicated in other countries to improve estimates of the prevalence of contaminated sites. This information provides important input to calculations of the global burden of disease attributable to hazardous exposures at contaminated sites.
Estimating the prevalence of toxic waste sites in low- and middle-income countries: a Ghanaian case studyDowling, R., Caravanos, J., & Ericson, B. (n.d.).
Journal titleEnvironmental Monitoring and Assessment
The Global Burden of Lead Toxicity Attributable to Informal Used Lead-Acid Battery SitesEricson, B., Landrigan, P., Taylor, M. P., Frostad, J., Caravanos, J., Keith, J., & Fuller, R. (n.d.).
Journal titleAnnals of Global Health
Page(s)686-699AbstractBackground Prior calculations of the burden of disease from environmental lead exposure in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) have not included estimates of the burden from lead-contaminated sites because of a lack of exposure data, resulting in an underestimation of a serious public health problem. Objective We used publicly available statistics and detailed site assessment data to model the number of informal used lead-acid battery (ULAB) recyclers and the resulting exposures in 90 LMICs. We estimated blood lead levels (BLLs) using the US Environment Protection Agency's Integrated Exposure Uptake Biokinetic Model for Lead in Children and Adult Lead Model. Finally, we used data and algorithms generated by the World Health Organization to calculate the number of attributable disability adjusted life years (DALYs). Results We estimated that there are 10,599 to 29,241 informal ULAB processing sites where human health is at risk in the 90 countries we reviewed. We further estimated that 6 to 16.8 million people are exposed at these sites and calculate a geometric mean BLL for exposed children (0-4 years of age) of 31.15 μg/dL and a geometric mean BLL for adults of 21.2 μg/dL. We calculated that these exposures resulted in 127,248 to 1,612,476 DALYs in 2013. Conclusions Informal ULAB processing is currently causing widespread lead poisoning in LMICs. There is an urgent need to identify and mitigate exposures at existing sites and to develop appropriate policy responses to minimize the creation of new sites.
The prevalence of toxic hotspots in former Soviet countriesSharov, P., Dowling, R., Gogishvili, M., Jones, B., Caravanos, J., McCartor, A., Kashdan, Z., & Fuller, R. (n.d.).
Journal titleEnvironmental Pollution
Page(s)346-353AbstractUsing a global database of contaminated sites, toxic hotspots in eight former Soviet countries were analyzed to identify the prevalence, types and sources of toxic pollution, as well as their associated potential public health impacts. For this analysis, polluted sites in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan were compiled and analyzed. The levels of contamination of seven key pollutants were assessed in each country. 424 contaminated sites were identified using data from Blacksmith Institute. Pesticides, lead (Pb), radioactive metals, arsenic (As), mercury (Hg), chromium (Cr), and cadmium (Cd) were the most commonly identified key pollutants. Collectively, these sites pose health risks to an estimated 6.2 million residents. The existing data on toxic hotspots in former Soviet countries likely captures only a small percentage of actual contaminated sites, but suggests potentially severe public health consequences. Additional assessments are needed to understand the risks posed by toxic pollution in the region.
Exposición a plomo: Una tarea pendiente en México
Global, regional, and national comparative risk assessment of 79 behavioural, environmental and occupational, and metabolic risks or clusters of risks in 188 countries, 1990-2013: A systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013
Protecting communities by remediating polluted sites worldwideHanrahan, D., Ericson, B., & Caravanos, J. (n.d.).
Journal titleProceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers: Civil Engineering
Page(s)33-40AbstractMillions of people worldwide are suffering health risks as a result of living near highly contaminated sites including abandoned industrial and mining sites, and polluting artisanal areas. More than 3000 sites across 50 developing countries have been identified. Nearly 100 million people are at risk at just these sites. The main impact falls on people in low- and middle-income countries, with children being particularly vulnerable. Interventions have been implemented at about 100 of these sites, with significant success in reducing impacts. This paper aims to draw the attention of practising engineers to the scale and impacts of the problem and to encourage expanded efforts to implement cost-effective solutions. Tackling contaminated sites is part of broader efforts under the umbrella of the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution to reduce environmental pollution, which is one of the largest contributors to the burden of disease worldwide. Clean-up is required but prevention of pollution must also be a high priority.
Spatial associations between contaminated land and socio demographics in GhanaDowling, R., Ericson, B., Caravanos, J., Grigsby, P., & Amoyaw-Osei, Y. (n.d.).
Journal titleInternational journal of environmental research and public health
Page(s)13587-13601AbstractAssociations between contaminated land and socio demographics are well documented in high-income countries. In low- and middle-income countries, however, little is known about the extent of contaminated land and possible demographic correlations. This is an important yet sparsely researched topic with potentially significant public health implications as exposure to pollution remains a leading source of morbidity and mortality in low-income countries. In this study, we review the associations between several socio demographic factors (population, population density, unemployment, education, and literacy) and contaminated sites in Ghana. Within this context, both correlation and association intend to show the relationship between two variables, namely contaminated sites and socio demographics. Aggregated district level 2010 census data from Ghana Statistical Service and contaminated site location data from Pure Earth’s Toxic Sites Identification Program (TSIP) were spatially evaluated using the number of sites per kilometer squared within districts as the unit of measurement. We found a low to medium positive correlation (ρ range: 0.285 to 0.478) between contaminated sites and the following socio demographics: higher population density, higher unemployment, greater education, and higher literacy rate. These results support previous studies and suggest that several socio demographic factors may be reasonably accurate predictors of contaminated site locations. More research and targeted data collection is needed to better understand these associations with the ultimate goal of developing a predictive model.
A simplified risk-ranking system for prioritizing toxic pollution sites in low- and middle-income countriesCaravanos, J., Gualtero, S., Dowling, R., Ericson, B., Keith, J., Hanrahan, D., & Fuller, R. (n.d.).
Journal titleAnnals of Global Health
Page(s)278-285AbstractBackground In low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), chemical exposures in the environment due to hazardous waste sites and toxic pollutants are typically poorly documented and their health impacts insufficiently quantified. Furthermore, there often is only limited understanding of the health and environmental consequences of point source pollution problems, and little consensus on how to assess and rank them. The contributions of toxic environmental exposures to the global burden of disease are not well characterized. Objectives The aim of this study was to describe the simple but effective approach taken by Blacksmith Institute's Toxic Sites Identification Program to quantify and rank toxic exposures in LMICs. This system is already in use at more than 3000 sites in 48 countries such as India, Indonesia, China, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Uruguay, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Ukraine. Methods A hazard ranking system formula, the Blacksmith Index (BI), takes into account important factors such as the scale of the pollution source, the size of the population possibly affected, and the exposure pathways, and is designed for use reliably in low-resource settings by local personnel provided with limited training. Findings Four representative case studies are presented, with varying locations, populations, pollutants, and exposure pathways. The BI was successfully applied to assess the extent and severity of environmental pollution problems at these sites. Conclusions The BI is a risk-ranking tool that provides direct and straightforward characterization, quantification, and prioritization of toxic pollution sites in settings where time, money, or resources are limited. It will be an important and useful tool for addressing toxic pollution problems in LMICs. Although the BI does not have the sophistication of the US Environmental Protection Agency's Hazard Ranking System, the case studies presented here document the effectiveness of the BI in the field, especially in low-resource settings. Understanding of the risks posed by toxic pollution sites helps assure better use of resources to manage sites and mitigate risks to public health. Quantification of these hazards is an important input to assessments of the global burden of disease.
Blood lead levels in mexico and pediatric burden of disease implications