According to a new global report released on Wednesday, nearly 9 million people died prematurely in 2019 due to pollution, with experts fearing an increasing number of deaths due to outdoor breathing and “terrible” numbers of lead poisoning.
Man-made wastes in air, water and soil rarely kill people instantly, but instead cause heart disease, cancer, shortness of breath, diarrhea and other serious illnesses.
The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health says the impact of pollution on world health is “far greater than war, terrorism, malaria, HIV, tuberculosis, drugs and alcohol”.
Pollution is a “threat to human health and planetary health, and endangers the sustainability of modern society,” it added.
In general, the review found that air pollution – responsible for a total of 6.7 million deaths worldwide in 2019 – was “involved” with climate change because the main sources of both problems were burning fossil fuels and biofuels.
“If we can’t grow in a clean and green way, we’re doing something terribly wrong,” said Richard Fuller, lead author of the report, adding that the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution added that chemical pollution also harms biodiversity – another major global threat.
“These things are terribly connected and the tactics of dealing with one have ripple effects everywhere,” he said.
Overall, one in six premature deaths worldwide – or nine million – is due to pollution, which has remained unchanged since the last assessment in 2015.
Researchers have noted a reduction in mortality associated with indoor air pollution, unsafe drinking water and inadequate sanitation, with significant improvements in Africa.
But the early deaths associated with industrialization – outside air and chemical pollution – are on the rise, especially in South and East Asia.
According to a study published in the Lancet Planetary Health, ambient air pollution caused about 4.5 million deaths in 2019, up from 4.2 million in 2015 and only 2.9 million in 2000.
Chemical pollution is also on the rise, with 900,000 people dying from lead poisoning alone. Even so, the report warns that in the light of new research, there may be a “low chance” that there is no safe level of exposure.
– Harmful to children –
Algeria banned lead in petrol in 2021, the last country to do so.
But uncontrolled reuse of lead-acid batteries and e-waste keep people exposed to toxins. Contaminated cooking spices are also a culprit.
“Lead is getting worse, in most of the poorer countries, and the death toll is rising, which is alarming,” Fuller said.
Fuller said heart disease is the cause of almost all early deaths due to exposure to lead, which hardens the arteries.
But higher lead levels in the blood – affecting millions of children – are estimated to impair brain development and are associated with serious impairment of cognitive functioning.
The report says that with the increase in lead behavioral disorders and the decline in economic productivity, global economic losses are estimated at about $ 1 trillion annually.
In Africa, the economic loss due to lead-related IQ loss is about four percent of GDP, compared to two percent in Asia.
– Silent killer –
Overall, additional deaths due to pollution caused an economic loss of a total of $ 4.6 trillion, or about six percent of global economic output, in 2019, the researchers said.
Low- and middle-income countries are by far the hardest hit, with more than 90 percent of deaths in the region.
There is growing evidence of pollution across national borders in the air, water and food chains.
The report says that while rich countries have reduced indoor and outdoor air pollution, they have effectively “displaced” it abroad with higher levels of production.
Existing global air transports air pollution from East Asia to North America, from North America to Europe, and from Europe to the Arctic and Central Asia.
Meanwhile, soil and water contaminated with lead, arsenic, cadmium, mercury and pesticides can contaminate cereals, seafood, chocolate and vegetables produced for export to developing countries.
It is “increasingly threatening global food security,” the report said, adding that “baby formula and toxic metals found in baby food are of particular concern.”
Fuller said the threat of pollution – especially air and lead pollution – is underestimated with a greater focus on the health effects of microplastics.
“We can show one million deaths from lead pollution right now – more than deaths from malaria, more deaths from HIV – and it hasn’t been discussed,” he said.
(Except for the title, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and was published from a syndicated feed.)