The situation “threatens the continuing survival of human societies”
The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health recently published a revealing report that should make governments take immediate action and modify the international development agenda in favor of the environment –if it is not already too late. Compiled by more than 40 researchers from governments and universities across the globe, the report sets pollution as the largest environmental cause of disease and death in the world today, responsible for an estimated 9 million premature deaths. The report, funded by the UN, the EU and the US, addresses the full health and economic costs of air, water, and soil toxicity, as for decades, pollution and its harmful effects on people’s health, the environment, and the planet have been neglected. “Pollution endangers the stability of the Earth’s support systems and threatens the continuing survival of human societies”, now warn the scientists leading the commission.
Developing countries are affected the most
Severe pollution in developing countries puts a massive burden on their economies, with the low-income and rapidly industrializing ones suffering 92% of pollution-related deaths. While Somalia features the highest rate of pollution deaths, India counts 2.5 million casualties, by far the largest number, China is following with 1.8m and Russia and the US are also in the top 10. The projections are also bad, as air pollution deaths in south-east Asia are on track to double by 2050!
“Traditional” pollution deaths – from contaminated water and wood cooking fires – appear to be falling in industrialized countries, but “modern” pollution deaths, linked to urbanization and industrialization, are quickly rising, and first-world countries are particularly affected by workplace pollution; the UK, Japan and Germany all appear in the top 10.
Air pollution is the biggest killer
The numbers are shocking: Outdoor air pollution, largely from vehicles and industry, caused 4.5m deaths and indoor air pollution, from wood and dung stoves, caused 2.9m, setting air pollution as the biggest killer, leading to heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and other illnesses. Water pollution follows, linked to 1.8m deaths as a result of gastrointestinal diseases and parasitic infections. Workplace pollution, including exposure to toxins, carcinogens and secondhand tobacco smoke, resulted in 800,000 deaths from diseases including pneumoconiosis in coal workers and bladder cancer in dye workers. Lead pollution, the one metal for which some data is available, was linked to 500,000 deaths a year.
The scientists believe the figure of 9 million deaths could be an underestimate by some million people at least, since research on the impacts of some substances, like plastic, has not yet concluded. There are many links yet to be discovered, such as the connection between air pollution and dementia, diabetes and kidney disease. Professor Philip Landrigan, at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, US, who co-led the commission, admitted that one of his biggest concerns is the unknown impact of the hundreds of industrial chemicals and pesticides already widely dispersed around the world; “I worry we have created a situation where people are exposed to chemicals that are eroding intelligence or impairing reproduction or weakening their immune system, but we have not yet been smart enough to make the connection between the exposure and the outcome, because it is subtle.”
Source: The Guardian