Pollution caused nearly nine million deaths in 2019, or about one in six deaths worldwide. This number had effectively unchanged since the last such analysis in 2015 by the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health, according to a report published in The Lancet Planetary Health on Wednesday.
Although the number of deaths from pollution sources associated with extreme poverty (such as indoor air pollution and water pollution) declined, these reductions are offset by increased deaths attributable to industrial pollution (such as ambient air pollution and chemical pollution).
A report by The Lancet in 2019, said that noxious air killed 1.67 million Indians in 2019, accounting for 18% of all fatalities.
“The health impacts of pollution remain enormous, and low- and middle-income countries bear the brunt of this burden. Despite its enormous health, social and economic impacts, pollution prevention is largely overlooked in the international development agenda,” Richard Fuller, lead author, said in a statement. “Attention and funding has only minimally increased since 2015, despite well-documented increases in public concern about pollution and its health effects.”
“Pollution is still the largest existential threat to human and planetary health and jeopardises the sustainability of modern societies. Preventing pollution can also slow climate change — achieving a double benefit for planetary health — and our report calls for a massive, rapid transition away from all fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy,” adds co-author Professor Philip Landrigan, Director, Global Public Health Program and Global Pollution Observatory at Boston College.
The 2017 Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health uses data from the 2015 Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study, which found that pollution was responsible for an estimated nine million deaths — 16% of all deaths globally. The new report provides updated estimates for the health effects of pollution based on the most recently available 2019 GBD data and methodological updates, as well as an assessment of trends since 2000.
Of the nine million pollution-attributable deaths in 2019, air pollution (both household and ambient) remains responsible for the greatest number of deaths at 6.67 million worldwide. Water pollution was responsible for 1.36 million premature deaths. Lead contributed 900,000 premature deaths, followed by toxic occupational hazards at 870,000 deaths.
Excess deaths due to pollution have led to economic losses totalling $4.6 trillion in 2019, equating to 6.2% of global economic output. The study also notes pollution’s deep inequity, with 92% of pollution-related deaths, and the greatest burden of pollution’s economic losses, occurring in low-income and middle-income countries.
The authors of the new study conclude with eight recommendations that build on those given in the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health. These include calls for an independent, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC)-style science/policy panel on pollution, alongside increased funding for pollution control from governments, independent, and philanthropic donors, and improved pollution monitoring and data collection.