Global pollution kills 9 million people a year, study finds
A new study blames pollution of all types for 9 million deaths a year worldwide, with the death toll attributed to polluted air from cars, trucks and industry rising by 55% since 2000.
This increase is offset by fewer pollution deaths caused by primitive indoor stoves and water contaminated with human and animal waste, so the total number of pollution deaths in 2019 is about the same as in 2015.
The United States is the only fully industrialized country among the top 10 countries for total pollution deaths, ranking 7th with 142,883 pollution-attributed deaths in 2019, sandwiched between Bangladesh and India. Ethiopia, according to a new study published in the journal The Lancet Planetary Health. Tuesday’s pre-pandemic study is based on calculations derived from the Global Burden of Disease database and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Seattle. India and China lead the world in pollution deaths with almost 2.4 million and almost 2.2 million deaths annually, but the two countries also have the largest populations in the world.
When deaths are calculated on a per-population rate, the United States ranks 31st from bottom with 43.6 pollution deaths per 100,000 people. Chad and the Central African Republic rank first with rates of around 300 pollution deaths per 100,000, more than half of which are from contaminated 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 population.
Pollution kills about the same number of people a year worldwide as smoking and second-hand smoke combined, the study found.
“9 million deaths is a lot of deaths,” said Philip Landrigan, director of the Global Public Health Program and the Global Pollution Observatory at Boston College.
“The bad news is it’s not shrinking,” Landrigan said. “We’re making progress on the easy stuff and we’re seeing the hard stuff, which is ambient (outdoor industrial) air pollution and chemical pollution, continue to increase.”
It doesn’t have to be that way, the researchers said.
“These are preventable deaths. Every one of them is an unnecessary death,” said Dr. Lynn Goldman, dean of the George Washington University School of Public Health, who was not part of the study. She said the calculations made sense and if anything. was so conservative about what he attributed to pollution, that the true death toll is likely higher.
The certificates of these deaths do not mention pollution. They list heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, other lung problems and diabetes that are “strongly correlated” with pollution in numerous epidemiological studies, Landrigan said. To then associate them with actual deaths, researchers look at the number of deaths by cause, exposure to pollution weighted by various factors, and then complicated calculations of exposure response derived from large epidemiological studies based on thousands of people over decades of study, he said. . It’s the same way scientists can tell that cigarettes cause death from cancer and heart disease.
“This canon of information constitutes causation,” Landrigan said. “This is how we do it.”
Five outside public health and air pollution experts, including Goldman, told The Associated Press that the study follows mainstream scientific thinking. Dr. Renee Salas, an emergency physician and Harvard professor who was not part of the study, said that “the American Heart Association determined more than a decade ago that exposure to (tiny particles of pollution ) such as that generated by burning fossil fuels causes heart disease and death.
“While people focus on lowering their blood pressure and cholesterol, few recognize that eliminating air pollution is an important prescription for improving their heart health,” Salas said.
Three-quarters of all pollution deaths are due to air pollution and most of this is “a combination of pollution from stationary sources like coal-fired power plants and steel mills. on the one hand and from mobile sources such as cars, trucks and buses. And it’s just a big global problem,” said Landrigan, a public health physician. “And it’s getting worse around the world as countries develop and cities grow.”
In New Delhi, India, air pollution peaks during the winter months and last year the city had only two days when the air was considered clean. It was the first time in four years that the city had a Clean Air Day during the winter months.
The fact that air pollution remains the leading cause of death in South Asia confirms what is already known, but the increase in these deaths means that toxic emissions from vehicles and energy production are increasing. , said Anumita Roychowdhury, director of the advocacy group Center for Science and Environment in New Delhi.
“This data is a reminder of what’s wrong, but also that it’s an opportunity to fix it,” Roychowdhury said.
Pollution deaths are soaring in the poorest areas, experts have said.
“This problem is worse in areas of the world where the population is most dense (e.g. Asia) and where the financial and governmental resources to solve the pollution problem are limited and stretched to meet a multitude of challenges, including health care availability and diet as well as pollution,” said Dan Greenbaum, president of the Health Effects Institute, who was not part of the study.
In 2000, industrial air pollution killed an estimated 2.9 million people a year worldwide. In 2015 it had risen to 4.2 million and in 2019 it was 4.5 million, according to the study. Throw 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 of which comes from lead additives that have been banned in gasoline in every country in the world, as well as in old paint, battery recycling and other manufacturing – kills 900,000 people per year, while water pollution is responsible for 1.4 million deaths per year. Workplace health pollution adds an additional 870,000 deaths, the study finds.
In the United States, about 20,000 people die each year from lead pollution-induced hypertension, heart and kidney disease, mostly due to occupational hazards, Landrigan said. Lead and asbestos are the top chemical occupational hazards in the United States, and they kill about 65,000 people a year from pollution, he said. The study says the number of deaths from air pollution in the United States in 2019 was 60,229, far more than deaths on American roads, which reached a 16-year high of nearly 43 000 last year.
Modern types of pollution are increasing in most countries, especially in developing countries, but have decreased from 2000 to 2019 in the United States, European Union and Ethiopia. Ethiopia’s numbers can’t quite be explained and may be a reporting issue, said study co-author Richard Fuller, founder of the Global Health and Pollution Alliance and president of Pure Earth, a non-profit organization that works on clean-up programs. in ten countries.
The study’s authors made eight recommendations to reduce pollution-related deaths, highlighting the need for better monitoring, better reporting and stronger government systems regulating industry and cars.
“We absolutely know how to fix each of these issues,” Fuller said. “What’s missing is the political will.”
Aniruddha Ghosal contributed from New Delhi, India.
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