The leading environmental cause of death and illness is pollution, according to a report from The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health published on Oct. 19.
“Diseases caused by pollution were responsible for an estimated 9 million premature deaths in 2015 – 16 percent of all deaths worldwide – three times more deaths than from AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined and 15 times more than from all wars and other forms of violence,” the report stated. “In the most severely affected countries, pollution-related disease is responsible for more than one death in four.”
Fossil fuel usage accounts for 85 percent of global pollution, with coal being “the world’s most polluting fossil fuel.”
Chemical pollutants (including pesticides) are another leading concern because fewer than half of the 5,000 of the most widely used synthetic chemicals have been subjected to safety and toxicity tests.
“Ambient air pollution, chemical pollution and soil pollution – the forms of pollution produced by industry, mining, electricity generation, mechanized agriculture and petroleum-powered vehicles – are all on the rise, with the most marked increases in rapidly developing and industrializing low-income and middle-income countries,” the report said.
The negative economic impact of pollution is estimated to be $4.6 trillion annually, and the world’s most vulnerable populations are most adversely affected by pollution.
“Nearly 92 percent of pollution-related deaths occur in low-income and middle-income countries and, in countries at every income level, disease caused by pollution is most prevalent among minorities and the marginalized,” the report said.
There is progress taking place despite significant challenges that remain.
For example, high-income nations have enacted regulations that have curbed pollution and ensured cleaner air and water “while increasing gross domestic product (GDP) by nearly 250 percent.”
Investing in pollution controls is usually a net positive for national economies.
“In the U.S., for example, concentrations of six common air pollutants have been reduced by about 70 percent since passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970 and, in the same time period, GDP has increased by nearly 250 percent,” the report said. “Every dollar invested in control of ambient air pollution in the U.S. not only improves health, but also is estimated to yield $30 in economic benefits.”
The report emphasized, “The claim that pollution control stifles economic growth and that poor countries must pass through a phase of pollution and disease on the road to prosperity has repeatedly been proven to be untrue.”