Global pollution kills 9 million people a year, study finds
A new study blames pollution of all types for 9 million deaths a year globally, with the death toll attributed to dirty air from cars, trucks and industry rising 55% since 2000.
That increase is offset by fewer pollution deaths from primitive indoor stoves and water contaminated with human and animal waste, so overall pollution deaths in 2019 are about the same as 2015.
The United States is the only fully industrialized country in the top 10 nations for total pollution deaths, ranking 7th with 142,883 deaths blamed on pollution in 2019, sandwiched between Bangladesh and Ethiopia, according to a new study in the journal The Lancet Planetary Health. Tuesday’s pre-pandemic study was based on calculations from the Global Burden of Disease database and Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. India and China are the top two countries in terms of pollution deaths, with almost 2.4 million and nearly 2.2 million deaths each year respectively. However, these two countries also have the largest populations.
When deaths are put on a per population rate, the United States ranks 31st from the bottom at 43.6 pollution deaths per 100,000. Chad and the Central African Republic rank the highest with rates about 300 pollution deaths per 100,000, more than half of them due to tainted water, while Brunei, Qatar and Iceland have the lowest pollution death rates ranging from 15 to 23. The global average is 117 pollution deaths per 100,000 people.
Pollution kills about the same number of people a year around the world as cigarette smoking and second-hand smoke combined, the study said.
“9,000,000 deaths is a lot,” said Philip Landrigan of Boston College’s Global Public Health Program.
” The bad news is that it’s still increasing,” Landrigan stated. “We’re making progress in the easy stuff but we’re still seeing the more difficult stuff .”
Researchers said that it doesn’t have be this way.
” They are preventable deaths. “Every single one of them is an unnecessary death,” said Dr. Lynn Goldman of the George Washington University School of Public Health. She said that the calculations were reasonable and even helpful. It was so conservative in determining the pollution to blame that the actual death toll is likely to be higher.
These certificates don’t mention pollution. Landrigan stated that these certificates list diseases such as heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, and other issues related to the lungs. These deaths are then compared to actual deaths. Landrigan said that researchers first look at the number and causes of deaths, then adjust for exposure to pollutants. Then they calculate complex exposure response calculations using large epidemiological studies that have been conducted on thousands of people over many decades. Scientists can also say that smoking causes heart disease deaths and cancer.
” “That cannon information constitutes causality,” Landrigan stated. “That’s how we do it.”
Three-quarters of the overall pollution deaths came from air pollution and the overwhelming part of that is “a combination of pollution from stationary sources like coal-fired power plants and steel mills on one hand and mobile sources like cars, trucks and buses. It’s a global problem,” Landrigan, a public-health physician, said. “And it’s getting worse around the world as countries develop and cities grow.”
In New Delhi, India, air pollution peaks in the winter months and last year the city saw just two days when the air wasn’t considered polluted. This was the first clean day in four years for the city during winter months.
While air pollution is still the leading cause of death for South Asia, it is now being confirmed by Anumita Roychowdhury (director at Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi).
” This data is a reminder about what is wrong, but also a chance to fix it,” Roychowdhury stated.
Pollution deaths are soaring in the poorest areas, experts said.
” This problem is worse in areas where there is more people (e.g. “This problem is most severe in areas of the world where the population density is highest (e.g. Asia), and where the government and financial resources are limited to address the problem.
In 2000, industrial air pollution killed about 2.9 million people a year globally. By 2015 it was up to 4.2 million and in 2019 it was 4.5 million, the study said. Toss in household air pollution, mostly from inefficient primitive stoves, and air pollution killed 6.7 million people in 2019, the study found.
Lead pollution — some from lead additive which has been banned from gasoline in every country in the world and also from old paint, recycling batteries and other manufacturing — kills 900,000 people a year, while water pollution is responsible for 1.4 million deaths a year. Occupational health pollution adds another 870,000 deaths, the study said.
In the United States, about 20,000 people a year die from lead pollution-induced hypertension, heart disease and kidney disease, mostly as occupational hazards, Landrigan said. Lead and asbestos are America’s big chemical occupational hazards, and they kill about 65,000 people a year from pollution, he said. The study said the number of air pollution deaths in the United States in 2019 was 60,229, far more than deaths on American roads, which hit a 16-year peak of nearly 43,000 last year.
Modern types of pollution are rising in most countries, especially developing ones, but fell from 2000 to 2019 in the United States, the European Union and Ethiopia. Richard Fuller, co-author of the study and president of Pure Earth (a non-profit organization that works on pollution clean up programs in more than a dozen countries), said that Ethiopia’s numbers are difficult to explain.
The study authors made eight recommendations to reduce pollution deaths. They highlighted the need for better monitoring and reporting, and stronger government systems that regulate industry and cars.
” We know exactly how to solve every one of these problems,” Fuller stated. “What’s missing is political will.”
Aniruddha Ghosal contributed from New Delhi, India.
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