Studies Warn of Widespread and Rising Death Rates Linked to Pollution in the U.S. and Worldwide

The report found increases in toxic chemicals used in paints, toys and cosmetics which are contributing to the pollution and rising death rates.

More than 9 million deaths worldwide may be caused each year by pollution, according to the findings of the new study.

In a report published this month in the medical journal The Lancet Planetary Health, researchers updated information about the estimated health and economic costs of air, water and soil pollution.

The data was from 2019 and compiled by researchers from the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution, providing an update to the The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health, which was originally issued in 2017.

The update does show some decreases in the number of pollution-related fatalities caused by water quality and household pollution, but also warns about a rise in deaths related to toxic chemicals and ambient air pollutants. This increase is presented in the study as an unintended consequence of greater and rapid industrialization and urbanization.

The report finds that pollution is one of the highest causes of death worldwide, surpassing smoking.

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According to the study, air and water pollution causes one in six deaths worldwide and more than 9 million deaths annually. This annual mortality rate is higher than those caused by roadway injuries, drugs, alcohol, and tobacco usage.

Air pollution from sources like power plants and vehicle emissions causes the majority of pollution-related fatalities, resulting in 6.7 million deaths in 2019. The study also indicates more than 1.8 million deaths were caused by lead and toxic chemical pollution in the same year, as the amount of toxic chemicals found in household items like spices, paint, children’s toys, and cosmetics has also increased.

The principal sources of lead exposure are linked to rapid advances in technology and the hazardous waste produced. These include the unsafe recycling of lead-acid batteries and e-waste without proper and effective pollution controls. Though it is believed that lead poisoning accounts for more deaths worldwide than HIV, the full extent of population exposure to these sources of pollution varies by country and is often unknown. Since many chemicals used in modern commercial manufacturing have yet to be adequately tested for toxicity and safety, it is nearly impossible to estimate the effect their exposure has had on the public at large.

The authors of the study indicate that while governments, intergovernmental bodies, organizations, and individuals acknowledge the dangerous impacts of pollution on our environment, not enough has been done to deal with the issue.

The report found lower and middle-income countries were disproportionately affected. In 2019 more than 90 percent of pollution-related deaths occurred in low- and middle-income countries.

The study suggests solutions must be enacted globally by taking steps similar to those being used to combat climate change. One such suggestion is to establish a pollution-focused body much like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to provide scientific information and technical guidance on the advancing pollution epidemic. The researchers also suggest more effective planning, monitoring, and funding schemes be implemented to better deal with pollution.


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