The Report from The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health analyzes and communicates the massive scope of the health and economic costs of air, water and soil pollution. Through analyses of existing and emerging data, the Report reveals pollution’s severe and underreported contribution to the Global Burden of Disease. It uncovers the economic costs of pollution to low- and middle-income countries, and compare the costs of inaction to the costs of available solutions. It informs key decision makers around the world about the burden that pollution places on health and economic development, and about cost-effective pollution control solutions and strategies. The Commission will bring pollution squarely into the international development agenda.
Pollution causes 16% of all deaths globally. Diseases caused by pollution were responsible in 2015 for an estimated 9 million premature deaths – 16% of all deaths worldwide – three times more deaths than AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined; and fifteen times more than all wars and other forms of violence. It kills more people than smoking, hunger and natural disasters. In some countries, it accounts for one in four deaths.
Pollution disproportionately kills the poor and the vulnerable. Nearly 92% of pollution-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. Within countries, pollution’s toll is greatest in poor and marginalized communities. Children face the highest risks because small exposures to chemicals.
Pollution is closely tied to climate change and biodiversity. Fossil fuel combustion in higher-income countries and the burning of biomass in lower-income countries accounts for 85% of airborne particulate pollution. Major emitters of carbon dioxide are coal-fired power plants, chemical producers, mining operations, and vehicles. Accelerating the switch to cleaner sources of energy will reduce air pollution and improve human and planetary health.
Pollution is neglected by funding agencies worldwide. Despite significant health impacts, the international development and health agendas have largely overlooked pollution. Funding is sparse when compared to resources for infectious disease and other environmental issues. No large foundations include environmental health and pollution as a focal area. Pollution control will also advance several of the Sustainable Development Goals. Despite the fact that more than 70% of the diseases caused by pollution are non-communicable, interventions against pollution are barely mentioned in the Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases.
The cost of inaction is high, while solutions can yield economic gains. Spending on pollution-related diseases accounts for up to 7% of health budgets in middle-income countries. Welfare costs from pollution are estimated to be $4.6 trillion per year – equivalent to 6.2% of global GDP. In the United States, each dollar invested in air pollution control has returned an estimated $30 (USD) in benefits (range, $4 – $88) since 1970. Higher IQs and increased productivity from removing lead from gasoline has returned an estimated $200 billion (range, $110-$300 billion) each year since 1980 ($6 trillion total). The claim that pollution control stifles economic growth and that poor countries must pollute to grow is false. Transition toward a circular economy will reduce pollution-related disease and improve health. Decoupling development from the consumption of non-renewable resources will minimize the generation of pollution and other forms of waste by recycling and reuse.
The effect of pollution on disease and disability varies by sex.
Men are more likely to die from exposure to ambient air pollution, lead pollution, and occupational pollutants than women. Women and children are more likely to die from exposure to water pollution than men. A comparison of the effects of pollution on morbidity and mortality with those of other risk factors on morbidity and mortality shows that pollution continues to be one of the largest risk factors for disease and premature death globally. The impact of pollution on health remains much greater than that of war, terrorism, malaria, HIV, tuberculosis, drugs, and alcohol, and the number of deaths caused by pollution are on par with those caused by smoking.
MD Bruce Lanphear
Professor of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University
Inside Climate News
Study Identifies Outdoor Air Pollution as the ‘Largest Existential Threat to Human and Planetary Health’
One in six killed by pollution worldwide, study finds
La pollution est responsable de 9 millions de morts chaque année dans le monde