Pollution caused 1 in 6 deaths worldwide over five years, study finds
Richard Fuller, the report’s lead author, said in an interview that a “lack of attention” is why this grim tally continues unabated.
“There’s not a lot of outcry around pollution…although clearly 9 million people dying every year is a huge problem that needs to be of concern,” he said.
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The analysis, which used 2019 data from Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries and Risk Factors, found that air pollution accounts for the vast majority of premature deaths, at 6.7 million. Water pollution has caused 1.4 million deaths, while lead poisoning has claimed almost a million lives. The report is an update of a similar analysis by Fuller and colleagues in 2015, which also found air and water pollution to be the main culprit.
While the total number of pollution-related deaths has not changed over the past five years, the sources have changed in some regions. In the past, most pollution deaths resulted from indoor and household air pollution, caused by fine soot particles released from indoor stoves burning wood or dung. Unsafe water and untreated sewage also claimed the lives of more than a million people.
Reducing air pollution from fossil fuels could save 50,000 lives a year, study finds
Fuller said this source of pollution has declined in recent years as many households in China and India have switched to gas for cooking.
But that was about the only good news in the report. Instead of these traditional pollutants, burning fossil fuels, burning automobiles and toxic chemical pollution now pose a greater health risk in the developing world.
More than half of the countries and nations in the world experienced more deaths from outdoor air pollution and toxic chemicals in 2019 than from indoor air pollution and water contamination. More than 2 million people have died from industrial and chemical pollution in China, for example, compared to around 367,000 from traditional sources.
In Africa, traditional pollutants remain the leading cause of pollution-related illnesses and deaths, although industrial pollution is on the rise.
“As we see this increase in industrialization, we see increased urbanization, more people living in cities, and an aging population that is more vulnerable to the health effects of air pollution,” Neelu said. Tummala, a physician and co-director of the Climate Health Institute at George Washington University who was not involved in the study. “All of that stuff combined really increases the amount of mortality associated.”
Fuller and his colleagues found that deaths from these “modern” sources of pollution increased by 7% between 2015 and 2019. Since 2000, they have skyrocketed by 66%.
Deaths also have an economic impact on a country’s gross domestic product (GDP). In South Asia, for example, deaths from air pollution alone caused a 10.3% loss in GDP in 2019. Globally, deaths from air pollution air reduced economic output by 6.1%.
“The big problem with air pollution causing economic losses is simply the loss of labour,” Tummala said. “If you have people who succumb to any of these medical conditions, whether it is worsening asthma attacks or a heart attack associated with air pollution, then you have a small workforce that can contribute to the economy.”
Meanwhile, the United States and some European countries have reduced their economic losses from pollution-related deaths by installing pollution controls and moving some of their industrial production to poorer countries. In fact, a November study showed that the world’s 20 largest economies are responsible for two million air pollution-related deaths due to outsourcing the production of goods to developing countries. Keisuke Nansai, the researcher who led the November study, said the number of deaths in low-income countries will continue to rise without help.
Major world economies responsible for millions of pollution deaths, mostly in poor countries
The death toll “will not change unless high-income countries with the technology and financial resources … create an international mechanism to jointly solve the problem,” said Nansai, a researcher at the Institute. national environmental studies in Japan and not involved. in the Lancet analysis, said in an email.
Fuller and his colleagues made several recommendations in the report on how to solve pollution problems, calling for an international push to establish pollution monitoring systems and funding for pollution control projects.
“Pollution has been largely ignored, and it has also been largely ignored in overseas development aid and the support we should be giving to countries to prevent all of this from happening,” Fuller said.
This time, he wants more organizations and governments to tackle pollution issues more seriously, saying he is shocked at how little progress has been made in recent years. “For me, the biggest surprise is the lack of attention in countries’ development strategies.”
He and co-author Rachael Kupka are slowly trying to solve this problem through the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution network. Kupka said they are holding workshops in various countries and bringing together several different departments, such as the ministries of health, transport, finance and agriculture, to create action plans.
“We’re bringing them together to really break down those silos so they can start talking to each other about pollution and health issues,” said Kupka, executive director of the Global Health and Pollution Alliance. Together, she said, they are looking at where the biggest disease burden is and prioritizing actions accordingly. At the end of the series of workshops, the government is expected to adopt this implementation plan.
In Senegal, for example, they looked at issues related to artisanal gold mining, air pollution, and heavy metal contamination, including lead and mercury. Kupka said his team provided the necessary tools to local poison testing centers and labs and empowered them to create a national blood monitoring program..
Lead, she said, is a particularly dangerous chemical pollution problem because it can cause permanent damage to people’s brains, fertility and immune systems. For brain development in children, lead poisoning can also affect their IQ. “The best solution is simply to prevent children from being exposed.”
Fuller said other causes of death by pollutionsuch as poor air quality, will be likely decline if countries act on climate change plans. For example, renewable energy would reduce the burning and burning of fossil fuels, which should improve air quality.
“If you attack the source of the problem, you’re going to have a double win,” Fuller said. “If you stop burning fossil fuels, we have a climate benefit, but you most likely have a health benefit as well.”
As countries adopt climate plans to reduce carbon emissions, Nansai said deaths from air pollution should ideally never be so high again if the plans are successful.
“Now that the world has shared the 1.5 degree goal… the number of deaths primarily caused by fossil fuels should not exceed that,” said Nansai, who pointed out that economic activity has also fallen. in 2020 due to the pandemic. “We need to make sure that the number of premature deaths in 2019 is the maximum level and that it should decrease in the future.”