9 million people died in 2019 from pollution, according to reports
Pollution remains a huge global killer. This week’s new report estimates that pollution contributed to 9 million early deaths worldwide in 2019, often from air pollution. The latest figures are unchanged from recent past annual estimates, and the authors regret that little has been done during that time to reduce the known harms of these pollutants.
Pollution can pose various acute and chronic health risks, although these can vary depending on the exact pollutant, duration, and route of exposure. Air pollution, in particular, is known to increase the risk of severe episodes of asthma, cardiovascular disease such as heart attacks, and slowly developing health problems such as lung cancer. These risks can also be passed on to the next generation, as higher exposure during pregnancy can increase the chances of preterm birth and other complications.
The findings, published Tuesday in The Lancet Planetary Health, update a 2017 report from the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health. That report used data from the Global Burden of Disease study to estimate that pollution contributed to the premature death of 9 million people in 2015. The new research estimates pollution-related deaths in 2019 and tracks relative mortality caused by various forms of pollution over the past 20 years.
Since 2000, there have been some subtle shifts. People now die less from so-called traditional types of pollution, such as unsafe water or air pollution in the home, thanks largely to improved sanitation and access to health care. But this decline has been completely offset by a rise in deaths from industrial pollution, the authors say — the kind that releases harmful aerosol particles widely into the outdoors, along with contaminants such as lead and other chemicals. This outdoor air pollution, also known as air pollution, contributed to 4.5 million deaths in 2019, up from 2.9 million in 2000.
The report found that air pollution killed more than 6 million people in 2019. And overall, the 9 million deaths attributed to pollution in 2019 accounted for about one in every six deaths that year. But these deaths were not felt equally worldwide, with more than 90% in low- to middle-income countries.
“The health impacts of pollution remain enormous, and low- and middle-income countries bear this burden. Despite the enormous health, social and economic consequences, pollution prevention is largely overlooked in the international development agenda,” said lead author Richard Fuller, co-chair of the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health, in a statement from The Lancet.
The avoidable loss of life is bad enough, but the authors point out that this damage is causing ripples everywhere. The economic cost of these deaths in 2019 was $4.6 trillion ($6) trillion in U.S. dollars, they estimate, or about 6.2% of that year’s global economic output. And doing more about pollution elsewhere would pay off, as many sources also contribute to higher greenhouse gas emissions and worsening climate change. Corruption isn’t great for wildlife either, threatening the extinction of many species even more. But so far, there hasn’t been much momentum to combat the problem significantly.
“Attention and funding have increased only minimally since 2015, despite well-documented increases in public concern about pollution and its health effects,” Fuller noted.
The authors make some recommendations for governments, industries, and other parties, such as increasing funding for pollution response programs and creating an international panel of experts to regularly study and monitor the pollution problem, similar to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Editor’s Note: The release dates in this article are based in the US but will be updated with local Australian dates as we learn more.