Study Says Pollution Caused 1 in 6 Deaths Globally

According to a new study published in Lancet Planetary Health, one out of every six deaths in 2015 were due to pollution. An international team of scientists led this analysis. It indicates that 9 million people each year lose their lives due to poor air quality, unsafe water, and toxic chemical pollution. Due to these factors, the impact on health was higher than TB, HIV, drugs, malaria, or even alcohol. Most of these deaths were in low and middle-income countries.

The report's lead author, Richard Fuller, said that "a lack of attention" accounts for why this grim tally continues unabated. He stated, "There's not much of an outcry around pollution … even though, clearly, 9 million people dying a year is an enormous issue to be concerned about."

The analysis used 2019 data from Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors. It discovered that air pollution accounts for the majority of premature deaths- 6.7 million in total. Water pollution was responsible for 1.4 million deaths, and lead poisoning was responsible for claiming about a million lives.

The report updates a similar analysis done by Fuller and his colleagues in 2015. That report also highlighted air and water pollution as the key culprits. It has also been discovered that though the total number of pollution-related deaths hasn't changed in the last five years, the sources have shifted in some regions. Previously, more deaths were due to indoor and household air pollution when fine particles of soot were released from indoor stoves burning dung or stoves. Unclean water and untreated sewage also claimed over a million lives. This source of pollution reduced as many countries switched to gas for cooking.

The New Culprits

The report also highlighted that fossil fuel burning, toxic chemical pollutants, and automobile combusting are now posing health risks in developing countries. More than half of nations across the globe experienced more deaths from outdoor air pollution and toxic chemicals in 2019 compared to indoor air pollution and water contamination.

The Solution

Fuller provided some solutions that can help in the future. He said, "If you attack the source of the problem, you are going to have a double benefit. If you're stopping fossil fuel combustion, we have a climate benefit, but you're very likely also to have a health benefit."

The report's co-author, Philip Landrigan, director of the Global Public Health Program and Global Pollution Observatory at Boston College, said, "Pollution is still the largest existential threat to human and planetary health and jeopardizes the sustainability of modern societies."

He added, "Preventing pollution can also slow climate change — achieving a double benefit for planetary health — and our report calls for a massive, rapid transition away from all fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy."

The scientists leading the analysis also hoped that this report might spur political action. Some avenues for changed highlighted by them were standardizing monitoring of pollution levels, strengthening pollution control partnerships, investing in research, and highlighting this issue in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.




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