Air, water pollution linked to the deaths of nearly 9 million people annually worldwide
A new study paints a bleak picture of the state of pollution around the globe, with poor air quality, water pollution and other environmental factors contributing to nearly one in six deaths annually worldwide.
The study, published this week in the Lancet, relied on data from researchers in more than 130 countries who looked at the causes of premature deaths in recent decades. It found that poor air quality was the most significant factor in pollution-related deaths, accounting for an estimated 6.5 million deaths in 2015 from heart disease, strokes, lung cancer and other respiratory problems.
“Going into this, my colleagues and I knew that pollution killed a lot of people. But we certainly did not have any idea of the total magnitude of the problem,” said Philip Landrigan, dean of global health at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and co-chair of the commission behind the report. “I think all of us were really surprised when we saw this.”
It’s estimated that 2.5 million deaths in India were attributable to pollution in 2015, with another 1.8 million deaths in China. Pakistan, Bangladesh and Kenya were also significantly affected by pollution-related deaths that year.
Beyond the massive human toll, the authors of Thursday’s report also focused on the financial toll caused by pollution-related health problems.
“Until now, people haven’t recognized what an incredible hit pollution makes on the economy of a country,” Landrigan said. “Pollution control can stimulate the economy because it reduces death and disease.”
They estimated the hit to national budgets at about 1.3 percent of gross domestic product in low-income countries, compared to about 0.5 percent in developed, high-income countries. In addition, nations facing crippling pollution tend to spend much more on health care to treat diseases related to the problem.