Pollution was responsible for 9million deaths in 2019, according to a major report.
Air, chemical and water pollution accounted for all the fatalities, which accounted for one in six deaths worldwide.
The figure is comparable with the global death rate from smoking and second-hand smoke, the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health said.
And it is around three times higher than malnutrition and drug and alcohol.
Researchers said little progress has been made on tackling the public health crisis — with the death rate ‘virtually unchanged’ since the last analysis in 2015.
They claimed there has been progress in reducing pollution deaths due to extreme poverty, such as unclean water, a lack of sanitation and household air pollution from burning fuels.
But this was offset by increases in deaths attributable to outdoor air pollution and toxic chemicals such as lead poisoning.
Pollution is the world’s largest environmental risk factor for disease and early death but ‘little has been done to deal with this public health crisis’, the experts warned.
The scientists called for a ‘massive, rapid transition away from all fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy’.
Air, chemical and water pollution accounted for the fatalities, which accounted for one in six deaths worldwide, the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health found. The figure is comparable with the global death rate from smoking and second-hand smoke and around three times higher than malnutrition and drug and alcohol
Water pollution caused 1.36million premature deaths, while lead caused 900,000 fatalities and toxic occupational hazards — including cleaning agents, mercury and pesticides — were to blame for 870,000, experts found. The graph shows the average blood lead concentration among populations worldwide, with parts of Africa, Asia and South America logging the worst rates
Air pollution increases the risk of several conditions, including heart attack, stroke and diabetes
WHICH COUNTRIES LOGGED THE MOST POLLUTION DEATHS?
United States 142,883
Democratic Republic of the Congo 101,587
(36th) United Kingdom 38,995
The report estimated the health effects of pollution based on the 2019 Global Burden of Disease study, the most recent version, which sets out national and regional death rates.
The report found that three-quarters of the nine million deaths (6.67million) were caused by air pollution, both household and ambient, such as from transport, factories and dust.
More than 1.8million of the fatalities were caused by toxic chemical pollution, such as carbon monoxide — a 66 per cent increase since 2000.
The researchers said the figure is likely an underestimate because only a small number of the chemicals people are exposed to have been ‘adequately tested’ for safety, meaning others could be causing extra fatalities that are not reflected in the data.
Water pollution caused 1.36million premature deaths, while lead caused 900,000 fatalities and toxic occupational hazards — including cleaning agents, mercury and pesticides — were to blame for 870,000.
The researchers noted that there had been a decline in deaths from ‘traditional’ pollutants — household air pollution from solid fuels and unsafe water — since 2000, which is most evident in Africa.
This can be explained by improvements in water supply and sanitation, antibiotics and treatments and cleaner fuels, they said.
However, this mortality decrease has been ‘offset by a substantial increase in deaths from exposure to industrial pollution’ across the world over the last two decades, the report states.
Southeast Asia has been hit hardest due to rising levels of industrial pollution combined with an ageing population, which has left ‘increasing numbers of people exposed’, the researchers said.
Pollution-related deaths cost the global economy £5.14trillion ($4.6trillion) in 2019, equating to 6.2 per cent of economic output, the experts estimated.
It adds to inequality, with 92 per cent of pollution-related deaths and the largest proportion of economic losses occurring in low and middle-income countries.
The study also notes pollution’s deep inequity, with 92% of pollution-related deaths, and the greatest burden of pollution’s economic losses, occurring in low-income and middle-income countries.
The researchers called for a global climate change body to be created, more cash from governments to control pollution and improved pollution monitoring and data collection.
Richard Fuller, lead author of the report and chair of the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution, said: ‘The health impacts of pollution remain enormous, and low- and middle-income countries bear the brunt of this burden.
‘Despite its enormous health, social and economic impacts, pollution prevention is largely overlooked in the international development agenda.
‘Attention and funding has only minimally increased since 2015, despite well-documented increases in public concern about pollution and its health effects.’
The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health produced their first report in 2017, using data from the 2015 Global Burden of Disease study.
The old report found that pollution was behind nine million deaths – 16 per cent of all deaths globally.
Professor Philip Landrigan, director of global public health and the global pollution observatory at Boston College, said: ‘Pollution is still the largest existential threat to human and planetary health and jeopardises the sustainability of modern societies.
‘Preventing pollution can also slow climate change – achieving a double benefit for planetary health – and our report calls for a massive, rapid transition away from all fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy.’
WHAT HAVE RECENT STUDIES SHOWN POLLUTION CAN DO TO OUR HEALTH AND BODIES?
CAUSE CHILDREN TO HAVE A LOW IQ: Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, found in May 2019 that children born to mothers who live in polluted areas have an IQ that is up to seven points lower than those living in places with cleaner air.
CAUSE CHILDREN TO HAVE POORER MEMORY: Researchers at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health found boys exposed to greater levels of PM2.5 in the womb performed worse on memory tests by the time they are 10.
DELAY THE DEVELOPMENT OF CHILDREN: Youngsters who live less than one-third of a mile away from busy roads are twice as likely to score lower on tests of communication skills in infancy, found researchers at Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health in April. They were also more likely to have poorer hand-eye coordination.
MAKE CHILDREN MORE ANXIOUS: University of Cincinnati scientists claimed pollution may alter the structure of children’s brains to make them more anxious. Their study of 14 youngsters found rates of anxiety was higher among those exposed to greater levels of pollution.
CUT YOUR CHILD’S LIFE SHORT: Children born today will lose nearly two years of their lives because of air pollution, according to a report by the US-based Health Effects Institute and the University of British Columbia in April 2019. UNICEF called for action on the back of the study.
RAISE A CHILD’S RISK OF AUTISM: Researchers at Monash University in Australia discovered youngsters living in highly polluted parts of Shanghai have a 86 per cent greater chance of developing ASD. Lead author Dr Yuming Guo said: ‘The developing brains of young children are more vulnerable to toxic exposures in the environment.’
CAUSE ASTHMA IN CHILDREN: Four million children around the world develop asthma each year because of road traffic pollution, a major study by academics at George Washington University estimated. Experts are divided as to what causes asthma – but exposure to pollution in childhood increases the risk by damaging the lungs.
MAKE CHILDREN FAT: University of Southern California experts found last November that 10 year olds who lived in polluted areas when they were babies are, on average, 2.2lbs (1kg), heavier than those who grew up around cleaner air. Nitrogen dioxide pollution could disrupt how well children burn fat, the scientists said.
LEAVE WOMEN INFERTILE EARLIER: Scientists at the University of Modena, Italy, claimed in May 2019 that they believe pollution speeds up ageing in women, just like smoking, meaning they run out of eggs faster. This was based on them finding almost two-thirds of women who have a low ‘reserve’ of eggs regularly inhaled toxic air.
RAISE THE RISK OF A MISCARRIAGE: University of Utah scientists found in January that pregnant women are 16 per cent more likely to suffer the heartbreak of a miscarriage if they live in areas of high pollution.
RAISE THE RISK OF BREAST CANCER: Scientists at the University of Stirling found six women working at the same bridge next to a busy road in the US got breast cancer within three years of each other. There was a one in 10,000 chance the cases were a coincidence, the study said. It suggested chemicals in the traffic fumes caused the cancer by shutting down the BRCA genes, which try to stop tumours growing.
DAMAGE A MAN’S SPERM: Brazilian scientists at the University of Sao Paulo found in March that mice exposed to toxic air had lower counts and worse quality sperm compared to those who had inhaled clean air since birth.
MAKE MEN LESS LIKELY TO GET SEXUALLY AROUSED: Scientists at Guangzhou Medical University in China found rats exposed to air pollution struggled to get sexually aroused. Scientists believe it may also affect men, as inhaling poisonous particles may trigger inflammation in blood vessels and starve the genitals of oxygen – affecting men’s ability to become sexually aroused.
MAKE MEN MORE LIKELY TO HAVE ERECTILE DYSFUNCTION: Men who live on main roads are more likely to have difficulty getting an erection due to exposure to pollution, a Guangzhou University in China study suggested in February. Toxic fumes reduced blood flow to the genitals, tests on rats showed, putting them at risk of developing erectile dysfunction.
RAISE THE RISK OF PSYCHOSIS: In March, King’s College London scientists linked toxic air to intense paranoia and hearing voices in young people for the first time. They said uncovering exactly how pollution may lead to psychosis should be an ‘urgent health priority’.
MAKE YOU DEPRESSED: Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers found in January that that the more polluted the air, the sadder we are. Their study was based on analysing social media users in China alongside the average daily PM2.5 concentration and weather data where they lived.
CAUSE DEMENTIA: Air pollution could be responsible for 60,000 cases of dementia in the UK, researchers from King’s College London and St George’s, University of London, calculated last September. Tiny pollutants breathed deep into the lungs and enter the blood stream, where they may travel into the brain and cause inflammation – a problem which may trigger dementia.