Nine million people died worldwide in 2015 after they were exposed to pollutants, according to a new report from The Lancet Commission for Pollution and Health.
That’s three times more deaths than all fatal cases of AIDS, tuberculosis or malaria, the report said. Pollution contributed to one out of six deaths around the world that year.
Death toll due to pollution is not a new problem. In 1990 alone, 10 million people died as a result of pollution, the report showed. That number of pollution-related deaths remained steady, despite a growing global population. Traditional pollutants, such as unventilated, wood-burning cookstoves or waterborne disease, have led to fewer deaths after years of work by countries and organizations to improve access to cleaner cooking devices and water sources.
But the commission found deaths due to modern pollutants — in the air, water and soil, such as motor vehicle exhaust fumes during rush-hour traffic or industrial waste that seeps into water supplies — are on the rise. Since 1990, an estimated 29 million people have died as a result of these modern pollutants, according to the report.
“Those are all going up and going up rather rapidly,” said Philip Landrigan, who helped lead the commission. Landrigan serves as professor and dean of global health at the Icahn School at Mount Sinai in New York City.
These findings are consistent with earlier trends about the escalating impact of pollution on public health, including a 2014 estimate from the World Health Organization. And despite the effects of pollution, the commission cited poor coordination, both at the nation and international level, to prevent pollution from worsening.
Landrigan emphasized that the choices policymakers make today could have a lasting impact on the health of the people they serve, including the young, sick and elderly, resulting in wide-ranging health and economic savings.
He said the planet can solve pollution and its entangled health effects, but cautioned: “It all depends on what people do.”