Pollution killing 9 million people per year: report

May 18, 2022

Air pollution from industrial processes along with urbanisation drove a 7% increase in pollution-related deaths from 2015 to 2019

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Tainted water and soil and dirty indoor air put Chad, the Central African Republic and Niger as the three countries with the most pollution-related deaths. Photo: Reuters

Worsening outdoor air pollution and toxic lead poisoning have kept global deaths from environmental contamination at an estimated 9 million per year since 2015, countering modest progress made in tacklingpollutionelsewhere, a team of scientists reported Tuesday.

Airpollutionfrom industrial processes along with urbanisation drove a 7% increase inpollution-related deaths from 2015 to 2019, according to thescientists’ analysis of dataon global mortality andpollutionlevels.

"We're sitting in the stew pot and slowly burning," said Richard Fuller, a study co-author and head of the global nonprofit Pure Earth. But unlike climate change, malaria, or HIV, "we haven't given (environmentalpollution) much focus."

An earlier version of the work published in 2017 also estimated the death toll frompollutionat roughly 9 million per year — or about one of every six deaths worldwide — and the cost to the global economy at up to $4.6 trillion per year. That putspollutionon par with smoking in terms of global deaths.COVID-19, by comparison, has killed about6.7 millionpeople globally since the pandemic began.

In their most recent study, published in the online journal Lancet Planetary Health, the authors analysed 2019 data from the Global Burden of Disease, an ongoing study by the University of Washington that assesses overallpollutionexposure and calculates mortality risk.

The new analysis looks more specifically at the causes ofpollution– separating traditional contaminants such as indoor smoke or sewage from more modern pollutants, like industrial airpollutionand toxic chemicals. Here are some of the key takeaways:

Water and indoor air

Deaths from traditional pollutants are declining globally. But they remain a major problem in Africa and some other developing countries. Tainted water and soil and dirty indoor air put Chad, the Central African Republic and Niger as the three countries with the mostpollution-related deaths, according to data adjusted for population.

State programmes to cut indoor airpollutionand improvements in sanitation have helped to curb death tolls in some places. In Ethiopia and Nigeria, these efforts brought related deaths down by two-thirds between 2000 and 2019. Meanwhile, the Indian government in 2016 began offering to replace wood-burning stoves with gas stove connections.

Modern pollutants

Deaths caused by exposure to modern pollutants such as heavy metals, agrochemicals, and fossil fuel emissions are "just skyrocketing," rising 66% since 2000, said co-author Rachael Kupka, executive director of the New York-based Global Alliance on Health andPollution.

When it comes to outdoor airpollution, some major capital cities have seen some success, including in Bangkok, China, and Mexico City, the authors said. But in smaller cities,pollutionlevels continue to climb.

Highest pollution-related deaths

Based on their findings about deaths adjusted for population, the study made a list of the 10 countries with the most pollution-related deaths.

1. Chad; 2. Central African Republic; 3. Niger; 4. Solomon Islands; 5. Somalia; 6. South Africa; 7. North Korea; 8. Lesotho; 9. Bulgaria; 10. Burkina Faso

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