Since the turn of the century, the world’s deaths from air pollution have more than doubled, and this is a development that researchers say highlights the impact of pollution as “the greatest existential threat to human and planetary health.”
The findings, which are part of a study published Tuesday in The Lancet Planetary Health, found that pollution was the cause of death worldwide in 2019, estimated in 2019. Fully of these deaths, 4.5 million deaths, were the result of the environment or the outdoors. , air pollution commonly emitted by vehicles and industrial sources such as power plants and factories.
The number of deaths that can be attributed to air pollution has increased by about 55 percent – to 4.5 million from 2.9 million – since 2000.
The study’s authors said deaths from ambient air and chemical pollution were so common that they offset the decline in deaths from other sources of pollution commonly associated with extreme poverty conditions, including indoor air pollution and water pollution.
“Pollution continues to be the greatest existential threat to human and planetary health and threatens the resilience of modern society,” said Philip Landrigan, co-author of the report, who runs the Global Public Health Program and the Global Pollution Observatory at Boston College.
The report noted that countries with lower collective incomes often bear a disproportionate share of the effects of pollution deaths, and called on governments, businesses and other organizations to abandon fossil fuels and use clean energy sources.
“Despite the huge health, social and economic impacts, pollution prevention is largely ignored on the international development agenda,” said Richard Fuller, lead author of the study, who is the founder and CEO of Pure Earth, a nonprofit environmental group. . “Attention and funding have increased only minimally since 2015, despite a documented increase in public concern about pollution and its health consequences.”
A peer-reviewed study conducted by the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health in 2017 using global disease severity (GBD) data for 2015 found that approximately 1.2 million deaths were caused by air pollution in households, usually due to tobacco smoke, household goods and appliances); about 1.3 million deaths were due to water pollution and 900,000 deaths from lead pollution.
In total, the study authors write, about 16 percent of deaths worldwide are related to pollution, which has resulted in more than $ 4 trillion in global economic losses.
Ambient air pollution can be caused by a number of sources, including forest fires.
Dipty Singh, an associate professor at the School of the Environment at Washington State University, co-authored a separate study on how forest fires, extreme heat and wind can degrade air quality.
She noted that in recent years, smoke from wildfires in California and the American West has traveled across the United States all the way to the East Coast. At some point during the 2020 forest fire season, Singh said, residents of up to 70 percent of the country felt negative air quality due to fires in the West.
“You know that this forest fire smoke has a lot of harmful air pollutants,” Singh said. “We don’t even fully understand everything that is in this smoke. But we know that it increases the amount of particulate matter, which directly affects our health. It’s something we can inhale, and it affects our cardiovascular respiratory system, and it can cause premature mortality and damage to development – many, many different health effects associated with it. ”
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One such effect, Singh said, was an increase in deaths from Covid-19 and other respiratory diseases.
“We are talking about the impact on people of several air pollutants, and the impact of these air pollutants on several people at once, which has implications for the management of the burden we place on the health care system,” Singh said.
Michael Brouwer, a professor at the Institute of Health Indicators and Assessment at the University of Washington, co-authored a study published Tuesday, noting that 9 million deaths a year from pollution have hardly changed in the past five years.
“And it’s very sad given the really stunning impact it has on health and that it can all be prevented,” he said.
“We actually know how to deal with this problem,” Brouwer said, referring to the need for clean energy decisions. “And yet we still have that influence.”
He said he hoped the study would be a “call to action”.
“Let’s take this seriously and invest the necessary resources – both financial and political will – to deal with it, and we will have a healthier population in the world,” he said.