News: Pollution Kills 9 Million People Each Year, Finds Study

Scientists report that it caused more deaths than tuberculosis, AIDS and malaria combined.

News: Pollution Kills 9 Million People Each Year, Finds Study

A new report published in The Lancet has found that, in 2015, pollution was responsible for approximately 9 million premature deaths worldwide, linking it to heart disease, cancer and lung disease—three times more than tuberculosis, AIDs and malaria combined.

The report says that air, soil, water, chemical and industrial pollution have contributed to what amounts to one in six deaths; air pollution is cited as the biggest contributor.

Although several diseases, including asthma, neurodevelopmental disorders, birth defects in children and stroke were previously linked to pollution, this is the first time researchers have collected information about deaths from all forms of pollution combined. The researchers also compared populations exposed to pollutants to those who were not exposed.

The brunt of early death by pollution is mainly borne by low-to-moderate income countries. "Pollution in rapidly developing countries is just getting worse and worse and worse,” said Dr. Philip Landrigan, a pediatrician and professor of environmental medicine and global health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in an interview with NPR. “And it isn't getting the attention it deserves.”

The impact of pollution became a source of international concern in the months before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, when American officials started testing the air quality. Today, China is a leader in using wind and solar renewable energy, and has begun to take steps to address air, water and soil pollution.

Americans are at risk, too
Even though the US dramatically reduced its air pollution since passage of the 1970 Clean Air Act, all countries continue to be at risk for pollution-related disease and mortality. "My concern is if you release a toxin in China, it can end up in LA just as easily," said Commission Co-leader Richard Fuller of Pure Earth, USA, an international non-profit, in an interview with CNN. Children, he said, are the most vulnerable. "The thing that worries me most in all this is the neurological damage that many of these toxins have," said Fuller. Heavy metals, including lead, damage kids' brains.

How you can help improve air quality 
Fuller recommends that people monitor what’s happening in their own neighborhoods and report their findings on www.pollution.org, pointing out that these findings can be brought into policy discussions. "If you're not seeing what you're feeling, you can add your story," said Fuller.

The pollution piece of the agenda has largely been forgotten because the planet is cleaner due to efforts made in the US and Europe. "… But it hasn't had the same effort in the rest of the world," said Fuller.

Indoor air pollution is another concern—and to some extent, one you can control in your home. You can do a spot check on how healthy your home is, find out if your air is polluted and take steps to improve it.

Medically reviewed in March 2020.

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