Air Pollution Responsible for Over 6.6 Million Deaths Worldwide in 2020, Study Finds
An annual comprehensive report on air pollution showed that it was responsible for 6.67 million deaths worldwide, including the premature death of 500,000 babies, with the worst health outcomes occurring in the developing world, according to the State of Global Air, which was released Wednesday.
The State of Global Air 2020 looked at the effects of air pollution on health outcomes in 2019 and found that conditions are getting worse, as it moved up from the fifth leading cause of death worldwide to the fourth leading cause. Only high-blood pressure, smoking and poor diet surpass air pollution.
The State of Global Air 2020 is a joint collaboration produced annually by the Health Effects Institute and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation's Global Burden of Disease project.
One reason that air pollution moved up in the list of leading causes of death is that this year's report was able to account for infant death due to air pollution. The report noted that roughly half a million babies died to due to poor air quality, with roughly two-thirds of those deaths due to poor indoor air from burning charcoal, wood and animal dung for cooking, according to The Guardian.
"We don't totally understand what the mechanisms are at this stage, but there is something going on that is causing reductions in baby growth and ultimately birth weight," said Katherine Walker, principal scientist at the Health Effects Institute, as The Guardian reported. "There is an epidemiological link, shown across multiple countries in multiple studies."
India was the worst hit country with 116,000 infant deaths linked to air pollution, while Sub-Saharan Africa saw 236,000 infant deaths due to poor air quality, according to the report, as Agence-France Presse (AFP) noted. Most of the complications were due to low birth weight and premature birth, which leaves a baby's lungs fragile.
It is not just babies that need to be protected. Recent studies have also noted that exposure to air pollution for mothers contributes to low birth weight and premature births, according to The Tribune in India.
"An infant's health is critical to the future of every society, and this newest evidence suggests an especially high risk for infants born in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa," said Dan Greenbaum, president of the Health Effects Institute, the AFP reported.
According to the report, the most smog or PM2.5 air pollution for 2019 was in India, followed by Nepal, Niger, Qatar and Nigeria. The report noted that India's air quality has been steadily decreasing since 2010. While most of the 20 most populous countries have decreased air pollution over the last decade, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Japan have seen air pollution increase, as The Hindustan Times reported.
Long-term exposure to air pollution contributed to 1.67 million deaths in India last year.
"Given the high exposure and staggering health burden of air pollution, India must show urgency and recognize air pollution as a regional-scale problem," said Sagnik Dey, associate professor at the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi, to The Hindustan Times. "The National Clean Air Program should be expanded beyond the urban centers with an air-shed approach prioritizing the local and regional mitigation measures to achieve clean air goals for India."
Epidemiologists have compared the state of air in developing countries to Victorian London from 150 years ago.
"This is not the air pollution we see in modern cities [in the rich world] but that which we had 150 years ago in London and other places, where there were coal fires indoors," said Beate Ritz, professor of epidemiology at UCLA, to The Guardian. "Indoor air pollution has not been at the forefront for policymakers, but it should be."
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At first glance, you wouldn't think avocados and almonds could harm bees; but a closer look at how these popular crops are produced reveals their potentially detrimental effect on pollinators.
Migratory beekeeping involves trucking millions of bees across the U.S. to pollinate different crops, including avocados and almonds. Timothy Paule II / Pexels / CC0<p>According to <a href="https://www.fromthegrapevine.com/israeli-kitchen/beekeeping-how-to-keep-bees" target="_blank">From the Grapevine</a>, American avocados also fully depend on bees' pollination to produce fruit, so farmers have turned to migratory beekeeping as well to fill the void left by wild populations.</p><p>U.S. farmers have become reliant upon the practice, but migratory beekeeping has been called exploitative and harmful to bees. <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/10/health/avocado-almond-vegan-partner/index.html" target="_blank">CNN</a> reported that commercial beekeeping may injure or kill bees and that transporting them to pollinate crops appears to negatively affect their health and lifespan. Because the honeybees are forced to gather pollen and nectar from a single, monoculture crop — the one they've been brought in to pollinate — they are deprived of their normal diet, which is more diverse and nourishing as it's comprised of a variety of pollens and nectars, Scientific American reported.</p><p>Scientific American added how getting shuttled from crop to crop and field to field across the country boomerangs the bees between feast and famine, especially once the blooms they were brought in to fertilize end.</p><p>Plus, the artificial mass influx of bees guarantees spreading viruses, mites and fungi between the insects as they collide in midair and crawl over each other in their hives, Scientific American reported. According to CNN, some researchers argue that this explains why so many bees die each winter, and even why entire hives suddenly die off in a phenomenon called colony collapse disorder.</p>
Avocado and almond crops depend on bees for proper pollination. FRANK MERIÑO / Pexels / CC0<p>Salazar and other Columbian beekeepers described "scooping up piles of dead bees" year after year since the avocado and citrus booms began, according to Phys.org. Many have opted to salvage what partial colonies survive and move away from agricultural areas.</p><p>The future of pollinators and the crops they help create is uncertain. According to the United Nations, nearly half of insect pollinators, particularly bees and butterflies, risk global extinction, Phys.org reported. Their decline already has cascading consequences for the economy and beyond. Roughly 1.4 billion jobs and three-quarters of all crops around the world depend on bees and other pollinators for free fertilization services worth billions of dollars, Phys.org noted. Losing wild and native bees could <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/wild-bees-crop-shortage-2646849232.html" target="_self">trigger food security issues</a>.</p><p>Salazar, the beekeeper, warned Phys.org, "The bee is a bioindicator. If bees are dying, what other insects beneficial to the environment... are dying?"</p>
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