Global pollution kills 9 million people every year, study finds

A new study blames pollution of all kinds for 9 million deaths a year worldwide, with a 55% increase in the number of deaths attributed to dirty air from cars, trucks and industry since 2000. That increase offset by fewer deaths from contamination from primitive indoor stoves and water. polluted with human and animal waste, so overall pollution deaths in 2019 are about the same as in 2015.

The United States is the only fully industrialized country among the 10 nations for total pollution deaths, ranking seventh with 142,883 deaths attributed to pollution in 2019, between Bangladesh and Ethiopia, according to a new study in The Lancet Planetary Health journal. .

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 nearly 2.4 million and nearly 2.2 million deaths a year, but the two nations also have the world’s largest populations.

When deaths are calculated by population rate, the United States ranks 31st from the bottom with 43.6 pollution deaths per 100,000. Chad and the Central African Republic rank highest with rates of about 300 pollution deaths per 100,000, more than half of them due to contaminated water, while Brunei, Qatar and Iceland have the lowest rates of pollution deaths , ranging between 15 and 23. The world average is 117 deaths from pollution per 100,000 inhabitants.

Pollution kills about the same number of people a year worldwide as cigarette smoking and secondhand smoke combined, according to the study.

“Nine 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 that it’s not slowing down,” 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, which continue to rise.”

It doesn’t have to be that way, the researchers said.

“These are preventable deaths. Every single one of them is 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, the study was conservative about what it attributed to contamination: The true number of deaths is likely higher.

The certificates of these deaths do not say contamination. They list heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, other lung problems and diabetes that are “strongly correlated” with pollution based on numerous epidemiological studies, Landrigan said. To then couple them with actual deaths, the researchers look at the number of deaths by cause, pollution exposure weighted by various factors, and then complicated exposure-response calculations derived from large epidemiological studies based on thousands of people over a period of time. decades of study, he said. . It’s the same way scientists can say that cigarettes cause cancer deaths and heart disease.

“That cannon of information constitutes causality,” Landrigan said. “This is how we do it.”

Five outside experts on public health and air pollution, including Goldman, told The Associated Press that the study follows conventional scientific thinking. Dr. Renee Salas, an emergency room physician and Harvard professor who was not part of the study, said, “The American Heart Association determined more than a decade ago that exposure to (small pollutant particles) such as those generated by Burning fossil fuels is a cause of heart disease and death.

“While people focus on lowering their blood pressure and cholesterol, few recognize that eliminating air pollution is an important recipe for improving your heart health,” Salas said.

Three-quarters of overall pollution deaths have come 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 the one hand and mobile sources like cars, trucks and buses.” … And it’s just a huge 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 in the winter months and last year the city saw only two days where the air was not considered polluted. It was the first time in four years that the city experienced a day of clean air during the winter months.

That air pollution remains the leading cause of death in South Asia reaffirms what is already known, but the rise in these deaths means that toxic emissions from vehicles and power generation are on the rise, said Anumita Roychowdhury, director of the advocacy group Center for Science and Environment in New Delhi.

“This data is a reminder of what’s going wrong, but also an opportunity to fix it,” Roychowdhury said.

Pollution deaths are skyrocketing in poorer areas, experts say.

“This problem is worse in areas of the world where the population is denser (for example, Asia) and where financial and government resources to address the pollution problem are limited and stretched to address a number of challenges including availability of health care 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 reached 4.2 million and in 2019 it reached 4.5 million, according to the study. Add in household air pollution, mostly from inefficient primitive cookstoves, and air pollution killed 6.7 million people in 2019, the study found.

Lead pollution, part of the lead additive that has been banned from gasoline in every country in the world and also from old paint, battery recycling and other manufactured goods, kills 900,000 people a year, while air pollution Water is responsible for 1.4 million deaths a year. Occupational health pollution adds another 870,000 deaths, according to the study.

In the United States, about 20,000 people a year die from high blood pressure, heart disease and kidney disease induced by lead contamination, mostly as occupational hazards, Landrigan said. Lead and asbestos are America’s biggest chemical workplace hazards, killing about 65,000 people a year from contamination, she 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 highways, which reached a 16-year peak of nearly 43,000 last year.

Modern types of pollution are increasing in most countries, especially developing countries, but fell from 2000 to 2019 in the United States, the European Union, and Ethiopia. The Ethiopian numbers can’t be fully explained and may be a reporting problem, said study co-author Richard Fuller, founder of the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution and president of Pure Earth, a nonprofit organization that works on contamination cleanup programs. in a dozen countries.

The study’s authors proposed eight recommendations to reduce pollution deaths, highlighting the need for better monitoring, better reporting and stronger government systems regulating industry and automobiles.

“We absolutely know how to solve each of those problems,” Fuller said. “What is missing is political will.”

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