OCT 29, 2017 2:10 PM PDT

Sixteen percent of early deaths caused by pollution

What would you say are the leading causes of death globally? Would you say hunger? Or water-borne diseases? Heart attacks or car accidents? Or mass shootings? Would you say shark attacks? Would pollution even cross your mind?

New research from The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health has released a report analyzing the impacts of pollution on global health and the findings may surprise you: pollution causes 16% of all deaths globally.

Now that’s a high number, but let’s look at just what it breaks down into. The study considers all the effects of all types of pollution – air, water, soil, and occupational – grouped into one category in order to determine the impacts. With data from case studies around the world, the report explains that in 2015, diseases caused by pollution resulted in 9 million premature deaths (that’s that 16% I mentioned earlier). That’s roughly three times more deaths than from AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined; fifteen times more than from all wars and other forms of violence; and more deaths than from smoking, hunger and natural disasters. Wow, that’s a heavy sentence. Go back and read it again to let the enormity of it sink in.

One of the saddest and most frustrating parts of the impacts from global pollution is that those already living in poverty are suffering more. The report details that almost 92% of pollution-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. Poor and marginalized communities offer face situations of environmental injustice, where their homes and the surrounding lands act as dumping grounds for the waste (industrial or otherwise) of the wealthy. In some countries, that means pollution-related disease accounts for more than one in four deaths. And sadly, as Science Daily explains, “Children face the highest risks because small exposures to chemicals in utero and in early childhood can result in lifelong disease and, disability, premature death, as well as reduced learning and earning potential.”

Air pollution causes diseases that lead to premature deaths around the world. Photo: National Geographic

"This is the first global analysis of the impacts of pollution -- air, water, soil, occupational -- together as well as exploring the economic costs and the social injustice of pollution," says Bruce Lanphear, author of the study and a health sciences professor at Simon Fraser University. "Pollution, which is at the root of many diseases and disorders that plague humankind, is entirely preventable."

On that note, the commission made sure to include suggestions for solutions for this overwhelming global problem. These feature recommendations to implement cleaner sources of energy in order to reduce pollution, as well as restore ecosystems that filter air, water, and soil naturally. The report also highlights examples and case studies successes around the world in pollution control and regulation.

Sources: The Lancet Commission, Science Daily

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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