Pollution kills 9 million people a year, study finds

posted on 05/18/2022 06:00


(credit: PRAKASH SINGH)

Pollution was responsible for 9 million deaths in 2019 – the equivalent of one in six deaths worldwide – reveals a study published by an international consortium of scientists in the latest issue of The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health. According to the authors, the number remains unchanged from the group’s previous analysis in 2017, reflecting that little action has been taken to contain this public health crisis. In the text, those responsible for the work call for immediate action to reverse this scenario that is causing planetary damage.

The research conducted by members of the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health is based on the Global Burden Disease (GBD) study – an annual publication with worldwide estimates related to the impact of different diseases on the population. Data analyzed in 2017 indicated that 9 million early deaths occurred worldwide in 2015. The number was repeated in the new report, which was based on information from 2019 and represents 16% of recorded deaths worldwide.

In addition, air pollution continues to be responsible for the highest number of deaths: 6.67 million worldwide. Next come toxic chemical pollution (1.8 million), water pollution (1.36 million) and toxic occupational hazards (870,000). Half of chemical pollution is attributed to lead exposure, and according to the authors, the number of casualties is likely underestimated because only a small number of commercially produced chemicals are properly tested for safety or toxicity. .

The latest paper also shows that the number of deaths from pollution sources associated with extreme poverty – such as the presence of pollutants in closed environments – has fallen, with this reduction most evident in Africa, where burning wood heating and charcoal is still common inside the house to make food. For the authors, this can be explained by the improvement of water supply and sanitation and the use of antibiotics and cleaner fuels.

On the other hand, there is a substantial increase in deaths linked to exposure to pollutants from industrial activity, most clearly recorded in Southeast Asia, where the increase in levels of exposure to toxic products s also adds to the aging of the population.

missing actions

In the opinion of scientists in general, this scenario shows that little has been done by world authorities to deal with the effects of pollution on people’s lives. “The health impacts of pollution remain enormous, and low- and middle-income countries bear the brunt of this burden. Despite its enormous social and economic impacts as well, pollution prevention is largely neglected on the international agenda of development,” criticizes Richard Fuller, lead author of the study and head of the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health, in a statement.

According to another conservationist from the NGO Pure Earth, in the United States attention and funding have increased “only minimally” since 2015. But studies have shown little effect, because pollution and its health effects increase. For the authors of the study, the results of the latest analyzes clearly show that pollutants are a global threat and that their consequences go beyond local borders. “Pollution cannot be seen as a problem of one region. It is an existential threat to human health and undermines the sustainability of modern societies,” said Philip Landrigan, director of the health program and the Global Pollution Observatory at Boston College, USA. .

Celso Taques Saldanha, coordinator of the Scientific Department of Biodiversity, Pollution and Allergies of the Brazilian Association of Allergy and Immunology (Asbai), draws attention to the fact that there has been no decrease in the number of victims despite all the advances in science. “It’s amazing that this is happening. We have tools to help change that picture, but even so, we’re maintaining those death rates over the years,” he says. “We see that poverty and pollution-related deaths have gone down, but then we have the industry-triggered increase. In other words, we’re continuing the same thing, with no gain.”

The authors of the study indicate a few ways to tackle the problem. Among the recommendations is the holding of an independent scientific conference on pollution, similar to the style of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). “Pollution, climate change and biodiversity loss are closely linked. The successful control of these common threats requires a specialized interface, joint work and global support”, justifies, in a press release, Rachael Kupka, co-author of book and executive director of the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution, USA.

Philip Landrigan illustrates an indication of the document focusing on this combination of themes. “Our report calls for a massive and rapid transition from all fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy,” he said. It is also part of the recommendations of experts to increase the financing of studies on the subject and actions aimed at containing the damage to the environment linked to pollutants.

Saldanha agrees with the strategies. “We must follow these guidelines requested in the article, as a discussion panel, in addition to finding new ways to inform the population on this subject, reinforcing its importance”, explains the member from Asbai. “We are seeing increasingly worrying data related to biodiversity loss, such as fires, in addition to the increase in cases of lung diseases, for example, pneumonia. Sudden change is needed for this data to be reversed .”

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