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Pollution killed more than 9 million people in 2019 alone

Air pollution was the biggest killer

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By Mark Waghorn via SWNS

Pollution killed more than nine million people across the globe in 2019 alone, according to new research from Boston College.

It was the world's largest environmental risk factor for disease - responsible for one in six deaths.

Environmental Damage: Air Pollution. The black smoke of the pipe.
Deaths from air pollution, water contamination and exposure to manmade chemicals have soared two-thirds over the past two decades.
(Pedal to the Stock/Shutterstock)

Air pollution was the biggest killer - claiming almost 6.7 million lives on its own, epidemiologists report.

Tiny particles emitted by traffic and industry get into the bloodstream - and poison major organs.

They have been linked to cardiovascular disease, cancer, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder) and even Alzheimer's.

Co-author Professor Philip Landrigan, of Boston College in Massachusetts, said: "Pollution is still the largest existential threat to human and planetary health and jeopardizes 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."

More than 1.8 million deaths were caused by toxic chemicals such as lead - a 66 percent rise since 2000.

The study in The Lancet Planetary Health found there had been little progress since a similar analysis by the same team - in 2015.

Lead author Richard Fuller, of the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution in Geneva, said: "The health impacts of pollution remain enormous, and low and middle-income countries bear the brunt of this burden."

Deaths caused by modern forms - including air pollution, water contamination and exposure to manmade chemicals - have soared two-thirds over the past two decades.

Industrialization, uncontrolled urbanization, population growth, burning of fossil fuels and an absence of adequate national or international policies are to blame.

Mr. Fuller said: "Despite declines in deaths from household air and water pollution, pollution still causes more than nine million deaths each year globally. This number has not changed since 2015.

"Key areas in which focus is needed include air pollution, lead poisoning, and chemical

"Air pollution causes over 6.5 million deaths each year globally, and this number is increasing.

"Lead and other chemicals are responsible for 1.8 million deaths each year globally, which is probably an undercounted figure.

"Most countries have done little to deal with this enormous public health problem."

"The triad of pollution, climate change, and biodiversity loss are the key global
environmental issues of our time.

"These issues are intricately linked and solutions to each will benefit the others. We cannot continue to ignore pollution. We are going backwards."

The study combined the most recently available Global Burden of Disease data with methodological updates and an assessment of trends since 2000.

Factory male worker wear safety uniform and safety gas mask holding chemical tank at the industry factory. Chemical specialist wear safety gas mask working and moving chemical tank at work factory
Deaths from modern pollution have increased by 66 percent in the past two decades. (Perfect Angle Images/Shutterstock)

Mr. Fuller said: "Despite its enormous health, social and economic impacts, pollution prevention is largely overlooked in the international development agenda.

"Attention and funding has only minimally increased since 2015, despite well-documented increases in public concern about pollution and its health effects."

Air pollution, water pollution, lead and toxic occupational hazards were behind 6.67 million, 1.36 million, 900,000 and 870,000 premature deaths, respectively.

There were substantial increases due to exposure to industrial pollution across all regions over the past 20 years.

It offset declines from solid fuels and unsafe water thanks to improvements in sanitation and access to antibiotics in Africa and other developing countries.

Ambient air pollution was responsible for 4.5 million deaths in 2019 - up from 4.2 million deaths in 2015 and 2.9 million in 2000.

Deaths from hazardous chemical pollutants increased from 0.9 million in 2000, to 1.7 million in 2015, to 1.8 million in 2019, with 900,000 deaths attributable to lead pollution in 2019.

Overall, deaths from modern pollution have increased by 66 percent in the past two decades, from an estimated 3.8 million deaths in 2000 to 6.3 million deaths in 2019.

Excess deaths due to pollution have led to economic losses totaling $4,64 trillion in 2019 - equating to 6.2 percent of global economic output.

More than nine in ten (92%) of pollution-related deaths occurred in low and middle-income countries.

The researchers called for an independent, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC)-style science/policy panel on pollution.

They also recommended increased funding for pollution control from governments, independent, and philanthropic donors, and improved pollution monitoring and data collection.

International organizations need to approve and establish a better connection between science and policy for pollution, like those for climate and biodiversity, initially for chemicals, waste, and air pollution said the researchers.

Co-author Rachael Kupka, executive director of the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution, added: "Pollution, climate change and biodiversity loss are closely linked.

"Successful control of these conjoined threats requires a globally supported, formal science-policy interface to inform intervention, influence research and guide funding.

"Pollution has typically been viewed as a local issue to be addressed through sub-national and national regulation or occasionally with regional policy in higher income regions.

"However, it is clear that pollution is a planetary threat, and that its drivers, dispersion, and health impacts transcend local boundaries and demand a global response. Global action on all major modern pollutants is needed."

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