- The researchers investigated the impact of pollution on public health between 2000 and 2019.
- They found that more than 9 million deaths worldwide, or one in six global deaths, were related to pollution.
- They say pollution-focused policies are needed to curb its impact on public health and the climate.
Pollution is unwanted man-made waste released into the air, land and water.
Monitoring the impact of pollution on public health can help shape policies to prevent negative health effects.
Recently, researchers updated the 2017 Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health
Although deaths from household and water pollution have declined since 2015, more than 9 million people worldwide died from pollution in 2019.
“Given the lack of prioritization for a sustainable environment, I’m not surprised we’re not making progress in reducing pollution-related health [issues] Over the past 5 years,” Dr. Dana BoydbarA professor of exposure science and environmental health at Emory University, who was not involved in the report, told Medical News Today.
“The U.S. has some of the most permissive environmental policies in the world and contributes significantly to global pollution. The approximation of deaths from environmental pollution in this article may be underestimated because the pollutants have not yet been identified,” she added.
Analysis: Pollution-related deaths
The researchers used 2019 data from the Global Study of Disease, Injury and Risk Factors (GBD). They also assessed trends since 2000.
The researchers noted that from 2000 to 2019, deaths from household air pollution and water sanitation steadily declined, especially in Africa. They believe that the main reasons for the decline are improvements in water supply, sanitation, antibiotics and clean fuels.
However, deaths from other forms of pollution have risen. Ambient particulate air pollution caused 4.5 million deaths in 2019, up from 4.2 million in 2015 and 2.9 million in 2000.
“According to the report, ambient particulate air pollution, much of which is produced by the burning of fossil fuels, is responsible for more than 4 million deaths each year,” said Dr. Robert Dubrow, Ph.D.Professor of epidemiology at Yale University, who was not involved in the report.
“The use of fossil fuels for energy is also a major source of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change,” he continued.
The researchers also found that more than 90 percent of pollution-related deaths occurred in low- and middle-income countries, particularly in South, East and Southeast Asia.
The researchers further noted that although their data suggest that lead exposure caused 900,000 deaths in 2019, the number could be even greater.
The severe effects of lead exposure on cognitive function cost the global economy $1 trillion annually.
The researchers also noted that the disease burden from chemical pollution may be underestimated. Of the thousands of man-made chemicals in commerce, only a few have been adequately tested for safety and toxicity.
The most worrisome effects of these chemical contaminants include developmental neurotoxicity, reproductive toxicity, and risk of immunotoxicity are poorly documented.
The researchers said that since the last report and recommendations in 2017, most countries had made “little effort” to develop policies to curb pollution-related health consequences.
Nonetheless, they again recommend prioritizing pollution and health protection both domestically and internationally. They further recommend:
- Increase international pollution prevention and control funds
- Establish systems to monitor and control pollution
- Monitoring lead and chemical pollution
- Monitoring water, sanitation and hygiene
- Building multisectoral partnerships to control pollution
The researchers concluded that international organizations and national governments need to continue to expand their focus on pollution as a global environmental problem.
When asked what the public could do to alleviate the situation, Marianthi-Anna Kioumourtzoglou ScD.There is little the public can do about it, said an assistant professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University who was not involved in the report.
“Ambient air pollution is everywhere and can even penetrate the building envelope and enter our homes and apartments,” she noted.
She added that personal behaviours such as heeding warnings on high pollution days, changing cooking habits and taking public transport instead of driving alone will only minimise exposure.
Both Dr. Dana Boyd Barr and Dr. Kioumourtzoglou agree that local and federal policies are needed to limit polluting practices to drastically reduce pollution.
“Given the large number of deaths caused by particulate air pollution, switching from fossil fuels to pollution-free renewable energy will be an urgent public health priority even if climate change is not an issue,” said Dr. Dubro. A transformative technology. What is lacking is political will.”
“The public in the US and UK needs to elect representatives who are not tied to the fossil fuel industry and support positive environmental action, including funding to help low- and middle-income countries make this transition,” he explained.
“Climate change and pollution are both global problems that require global solutions, and it is in the interests of the American and British people to help make this transition happen on a global scale,” he concluded.