New research suggests air pollution is responsible for 9 million deaths worldwide each year. This is attributed to a 55% increase in deaths attributed to dirty air from cars, trucks, and industry since 2000.
The annual pollution deaths are actually 68.89% higher than the total number of people who have died from the covid-19 coronavirus.
Since the novel virus was first identified during an outbreak in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, 6.27 million people have died to date from the novel covid-19 coronavirus. On 30 January 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern and a pandemic on 11 March 2020.
A study published in The Lancet indicates that the United States is the only fully industrialized nation in the top 10 nations for total pollution deaths. The US ranks 7th with 142,883 deaths related to pollution in 2019, sandwiched between Bangladesh and Ethiopia.
The pre-pandemic study was based on calculations from the Global Burden of Disease database and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Seattle. With nearly 2.4 million and almost 2.2 million pollution-related deaths a year, respectively, India and China are the world’s two most populous nations.
In terms of death rates per 100,000 people, the United States ranks 31st from the bottom with 43.6 pollution deaths. With pollution death rates around 300 per 100,000 in Chad and CAR, more than half of which are due to tainted water, Brunei, Qatar, and Iceland have the lowest pollution death rates, ranging from 15 to 23.
Globally, there are 117 pollution-related deaths per 100,000 people.
According to the study, pollution kills as many people around the world as cigarette smoking and secondhand smoke combined.
Philip Landrigan, director of Boston College’s Global Public Health Program and Global Pollution Observatory, says 9 million deaths is a lot.
“The bad news is that it doesn’t appear to be decreasing,” Landrigan said. “We are making progress with easy things, but the more difficult things, like ambient (outdoor industrial air pollution) and chemical pollution, are still increasing.”
Researchers said this doesn’t have to be the case.
“These are preventable deaths. The deaths of every single one of them are unnecessary,” said Dr. Lynn Goldman, dean of the George Washington University School of Public Health, who was not involved in the study.
She told the Associated Press that the calculations made sense and, if anything, they were so conservative about what has been attributed to the pollution that the real death toll is likely higher.
The death certificates for these people don’t mention pollution. Landrigan said that multiple epidemiological studies had linked pollution to heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, other lung issues, and diabetes.
Researchers then combine these with the number of deaths by cause, the exposure to pollution weighted for various factors, and then complicated exposure-response calculations derived from large epidemiological studies that studied thousands of people for decades.
In the same way, scientists can say cigarettes cause cancer and heart disease deaths.
Landrigan said that this cannon of the information constitutes causality. He said, “That’s how we do it.”
Burning of fossil fuels
Several experts in public health and air pollution, including Goldman, said the study is in line with mainstream scientific thinking. The American Heart Association determined over ten years ago that exposure to tiny PM2.5 particles like those generated from the burning of fossil fuels is causal to heart disease and death, said Dr. Renee Salas, an emergency room physician and Harvard professor who wasn’t part of the study.
Salas said that although people focus on lowering their blood pressure and cholesterol, few realize that the removal of air pollution is an imperative prescription for improving heart health.
Over three-quarters of the deaths from air pollution were caused by stationary sources such as coal-fired power plants and steel mills and mobile sources like cars, trucks, and buses. A public health physician, Dr. Landrigan, said, “And it’s a global problem.”. “And it’s getting worse as countries develop and cities grow.”
In New Delhi, India, air pollution peaks in the winter months, and last year the city saw just two days when the air wasn’t considered polluted. It was the first time in four years that the city experienced a clean air day during the winter months.
Anumita Roychowdhury, a director at the advocacy group Centre for Science and Environment in New Delhi, said the finding that air pollution remains the leading cause of death in South Asia confirms what is already known, but the increase in these deaths means that toxic emissions from vehicles and energy generation are increasing.
Problem worse in densely populated areas
The data is a reminder of what’s wrong, but it’s also an opportunity to fix it, Roychoudhury said. According to experts, pollution deaths are soaring in the poorest areas.
Health Effects Institute president Dan Greenbaum, who was not involved with the study, said: “This problem is worse in areas with dense populations (e.g., Asia) and where financial and government resources to address the pollution problem are limited. At the same time, a host of other challenges need to be addressed, including health care and diet.
Globally, about 2.9 million people died from industrial air pollution in 2000. According to the study, it increased to 4.2 million in 2015 and to 4.5 million by 2019. The study also found that household air pollution, mostly from inefficient primitive stoves, caused air pollution to kill 6.7 million people in 2019.
Approximately 900,000 people die each year from lead pollution – some are from lead additives removed from gasoline in all countries and from old paint, recycling batteries, and other manufacturing processes. Around 1.4 million deaths are caused by water pollution each year. Another 870,000 are caused by occupational health pollution.
Air Pollution clean-up programs
Landrigan said that approximately 20,000 people in the United States die every year from lead poisoning-induced hypertension, heart disease, and kidney disease, mostly caused by occupational hazards.
He said lead and asbestos are America’s biggest chemical occupational hazards, killing about 65,000 people each year. According to the study, the number of air pollution deaths in the United States in 2019 reached 60,229, far more than the number of deaths on American roads, which reached a 16-year high of nearly 43,000.
Despite modern forms of pollution rising in most countries, especially developing ones, they declined in the United States, the European Union, and Ethiopia between 2000 and 2019.
The study co-author Richard Fuller, president of Pure Earth, a non-profit that works on pollution clean-up programs in about a dozen countries, says the Ethiopian numbers might be a reporting issue.
In their study, the authors outlined eight recommendations to reduce pollution deaths, emphasizing the need for better monitoring, better reporting, and stronger government regulations of cars and industry.