Air pollution was linked to 6.5 million deaths worldwide in 2015, with water pollution contributing to almost two million more, according to a report published in the British medical journal, The Lancet.
The report was prepared by the journal’s own Commission on Pollution and Health, a two-year collaboration between 40 health and environmental scientists.
The study found that in 2015 pollution was linked over all to nine million deaths, or one in six of all deaths that occurred that year. Most of the pollution-related fatalities arose through non-communicable diseases, such as heart disease, stroke and lung cancer.
“If you look at this from a public health policy perspective, that’s more than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined, and more than 15 times more than all wars and other forms of violence,” says University of Queensland child health researcher and member of the commission, Peter Sly.
“Children are at high risk and even low dose exposure in utero and early infancy can result in disease, disability and death in childhood and across the lifespan.”
Airborne gases and particulate matter, combined with the indoor air fouling caused by burning wood, coal, dung, and crop wastes for domestic heating and fuel, accounted for by far the largest category of pollution-linked deaths.
Water pollution deaths were caused primarily by unsafe sanitation and fouled water sources, giving rise to widespread gastrointestinal diseases and parasitic infections.
Workplaces accounted for almost a million pollution-related deaths, and included mesothelioma and lung cancer in workers exposed to asbestos, bladder cancer in dye workers and pneumoconiosis in coal miners.
“Pollution is much more than an environmental challenge – it is a profound and pervasive threat that affects many aspects of human health and wellbeing,” says Commission co-lead, Philip Landrigan from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, USA.
“It deserves the full attention of international leaders, civil society, health professionals, and people around the world.”
The commission has also produced an interactive map showing the world’s pollution hotspots at pollution.org. You can even add your own research to fill out the picture.
Andrew Masterson is a former editor of Cosmos.
Read science facts, not fiction...
There’s never been a more important time to explain the facts, cherish evidence-based knowledge and to showcase the latest scientific, technological and engineering breakthroughs. Cosmos is published by The Royal Institution of Australia, a charity dedicated to connecting people with the world of science. Financial contributions, however big or small, help us provide access to trusted science information at a time when the world needs it most. Please support us by making a donation or purchasing a subscription today.