Worsening outdoor air pollution and toxic lead poisoning have kept global deaths from environmental pollution at an estimated 9 million a year since 2015 – counteracting modest progress in tackling pollution elsewhere, a team of scientists reported on Tuesday.
Air pollution from industrial processes along with urbanization led to a 7% increase in pollution-related deaths from 2015 to 2019, according to researchers’ analysis of data on global mortality and pollution levels.
“We’re sitting in the pot and burning slowly,” said Richard Fuller, a study co-author and leader of global nonprofit Pure Earth. But unlike climate change, malaria or HIV, “we have not given (environmental pollution) much focus.”
An earlier version of the work published in 2017 also estimated the death toll from pollution to be about 9 million a year – or about one in six deaths worldwide – and the cost to the global economy to up to $ 4.6 trillion a year. It puts pollution on a par with smoking in the form of global deaths. Covid-19for comparison has killed approx 6.7 million people globally since the pandemic began.
For their most recent study, published in the online journal Lancet Planetary Health, the authors analyzed 2019 data from the Global Burden of Disease, an ongoing study from the University of Washington that assesses total pollution exposure and calculates the mortality risk.
The new analysis looks more specifically at the causes of pollution – to distinguish traditional pollutants such as indoor smoke or wastewater from more modern pollutants, such as industrial air pollution and 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. Polluted water and soil and dirty indoor air rank Chad, the Central African Republic and Niger as the three countries with the most pollution-related deaths, according to population-adjusted data.
Government programs to reduce indoor air pollution and improvements to sanitation have helped curb death rates in some places. In Ethiopia and Nigeria, these efforts caused related deaths to fall by two-thirds between 2000 and 2019. Meanwhile, in 2016, the Indian government began offering to replace stoves with gas stove connections.
Deaths caused by exposure to modern pollutants such as heavy metals, agrochemicals and fossil fuel emissions are “just up” and have risen 66% since 2000, said co-author Rachael Kupka, CEO of the New York-based Global Alliance on Health and Pollution .
When it comes to outdoor air pollution, some major capitals have had some success, including in Bangkok, China and Mexico City, the authors said. But in smaller cities, pollution levels continue to rise.
Highest pollution-related deaths
The study provided a list of the 10 countries most affected by pollution-related deaths, based on their results on population-adjusted mortality.
2. Central African Republic;
4. Solomon Islands;
6. South Africa;
7. North Korea;
10. Burkina Faso