In a new study that will surprise absolutely no one, the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAPH) found that pollution kills.
The new data shows pollution still to be the largest environmental cause of premature death on the planet, killing 8.3 million people in 2017,2 or nearly one death in seven. These deaths are caused by exposure to toxic air, water, soil, and chemical pollution globally.
The GAPH report updates and expands on results of a similar study published in October 2017 – The Lancet Global Commission on Pollution and Health Report.
Diseases linked to pollution still disproportionately kill the poor and vulnerable; and is a leading cause of premature death in many smaller low and middle-income countries. That said, the United States makes the “Top Ten” in sheer number of premature pollution-related deaths.
Pollution kills three times as many people a year as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined. Pollution is responsible for 15 times the number of deaths caused by war and other forms of violence each year. In the most severely affected countries, diseases associated with pollution account for more than one death in four.
The GAPH report categorizes pollution “as modern and traditional”, with modern pollution resulting “from industrialization and urbanization and includes ambient air pollution, soil and chemicals pollution, and pollution in the workplace. These forms of pollution are increasing.” Traditional pollution, on the other hand, “refers to indoor air pollution, largely caused by poor ventilation and smoke from cook stoves and heating fires, and water pollution from unsafe sanitation.” The report notes that while traditional pollution is falling, “poor water sanitation and contaminated indoor air are major killers in the world’s poorest nations.”
I think the saddest part of this new study is not nothing has changed since the earlier Lancet Commission report was published. According to GAPH, that report had three major messages: Pollution is the largest environmental threat to health; pollution has been severely neglected and has not received adequate attention at private or government levels; and, most telling, pollution can be controlled with solutions that already exist.
An awareness that approximately one in seven deaths in the world is pollution-related should in itself be an immediate call to arms for civil society and government actors alike. Actions to mitigate pollution and implement solutions should be urgently undertaken. However, despite pollution’s substantial effects on human health (as well as on the economy and the environment), pollution mitigation remains in large part neglected, especially in low- and middle-income countries.