Quantcast

Air Pollution Kills 9 Million, Costs $5 Trillion Per Year

Climate
Air pollution in China. V.T. Polywoda / Flickr

By Andy Rowell

"For decades, pollution and its harmful effects on people's health, the environment, and the planet have been neglected both by Governments and the international development agenda. Yet, pollution is the largest environmental cause of disease and death in the world today, responsible for an estimated 9 million premature deaths."

So begins the executive summary of the landmark Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health, just published. It continues: "The substantial health and economic costs of pollution globally can no longer be ignored."


The introduction to the report is stark: "Pollution is one of the great existential challenges of the Anthropocene epoch ... Pollution is now a substantial problem that endangers the health of billions, degrades the Earth's ecosystems, undermines the economic security of nations, and is responsible for an enormous global burden of disease, disability, and premature death."

Some of the statistics and findings are startling. People are not just dying—they are getting sick and living with years of disability. This has an economic toll. The "welfare losses due to pollution to be more than US$4.6 trillion per year, which is equivalent to 6.2% of global economic output."

If the message was not unambiguous enough: Air pollution "threatens the continuing survival of human societies."

The impact on health is immense: Air pollution was responsible in 2015 for 19 percent of all cardiovascular deaths worldwide, 24 percent of ischaemic heart disease deaths, 21 percent of stroke deaths, and 23 percent of lung cancer deaths.

However, the burden is disproportionately on the poor and the world's most vulnerable. More than ninety percent of all pollution-related mortality is seen in low-income and middle-income countries.

Children are also "at high risk of pollution-related disease and even extremely low-dose exposures to pollutants during windows of vulnerability in utero and in early infancy can result in disease, disability, and death in childhood and across their lifespan."

The commission points the finger at the fossil fuel industry: "Pollution is intimately linked to global climate change. Fuel combustion—fossil fuel combustion in high-income and middle-income countries" is a key driver of pollution and "coal is the world's most polluting fossil fuel, and coal combustion is an important cause of both pollution and climate change."

"We fear that with nine million deaths a year, we are pushing the envelope on the amount of pollution the earth can carry," said professor Philip Landrigan at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, who co-led the commission.

Landrigan told the Guardian that the scale of deaths from pollution had surprised the researchers and that two other "real shockers" stood out. First was how quickly modern pollution deaths were rising, and secondly, "The current figure of nine million is almost certainly an underestimate, probably by several million."

Landrigan added, "We always hear 'we can't afford to clean up pollution'—I say we can't afford not to clean it up."

Instead of cleaning up pollution and pioneering a clean energy future, the Trump administration is promoting dirty fossil fuels, including coal. Gina McCarthy, former head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, criticized the Trump administration after the report was released: "Now is not the time to go backwards in the U.S. Environmental protection and a strong economy go hand in hand. We also need to help other countries, not only for the benefit it will bring them, but because pollution knows no boundaries."

It does not have to be this way. "This Lancet Commission should inform policy makers and serve as a timely call to action. Pollution is a winnable battle … Current and future generations deserve a pollution-free world," the commission said in an editorial.

The time to act is now.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Asian elephants frolic in Kaudulla Wewa at Kaudulla National Park in central Sri Lanka. David Stanley / CC BY 2.0

When it comes to saving some of the planet's largest animals, a group of researchers says that old methods of conservation just won't cut it anymore.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

A low-fat diet that prioritizes eating healthier foods like fruits and vegetables each day could lower the risk a woman's risk of dying from breast cancer, according to a multi-decade study published this month.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
smcgee / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

Several New York City Starbucks exposed customers to a potentially deadly pesticide, two lawsuits filed Tuesday allege.

Read More Show Less
Drinks with plastic straws on sale at London's Borough Market. Susie Adams / Getty Images

The UK government has set a date for a ban on the sale of single use plastics, The Guardian reported Wednesday. From April 2020, the sale of plastic straws, drink stirrers and cotton buds with plastic stems will be prohibited in England.

Read More Show Less
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) speaks during the North American Building Trades Unions Conference at the Washington Hilton April 10, 2019 in Washington, DC. Zach Gibson / Getty Images

Colorado senator and 2020 hopeful Michael Bennet introduced his plan to combat climate change Monday, in the first major policy rollout of his campaign. Bennet's plan calls for the establishment of a "Climate Bank," using $1 trillion in federal spending to "catalyze" $10 trillion in private spending for the U.S. to transition entirely to net-zero emissions by 2050.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Foto-Rabe / Pixabay

When Trump's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its replacement for the Obama-era Clean Power Plan in August 2018, its own estimates said the reduced regulations could lead to 1,400 early deaths a year from air pollution by 2030.

Now, the EPA wants to change the way it calculates the risks posed by particulate matter pollution, using a model that would lower the death toll from the new plan, The New York Times reported Monday. Five current or former EPA officials familiar with the plan told The Times that the new method would assume there is no significant health gain by lowering air pollution levels below the legal limit. However, many public health experts say that there is no safe level of particulate matter exposure, which has long been linked to heart and lung disease.

Read More Show Less
A crate carrying one of the 33 lions rescued from circuses in Peru and Columbia is lifted onto the back of a lorry before being transported to a private reserve on April 30, 2016 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Dan Kitwood / Getty Images

By Andrea Germanos

Animal welfare advocates are praising soon-to-be introduced legislation in the U.S. that would ban the use of wild animals in traveling circuses.

Read More Show Less
A tornado Monday in Union City, Oklahoma. TicToc by Bloomberg / YouTube screenshot

Extreme weather spawned 18 tornadoes across five states Monday, USA Today reported. Tornadoes were reported in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Arizona, but were not as dangerous as forecasters had initially feared, the Associated Press reported.

Read More Show Less