Pollution from varied sources caused 9 million deaths worldwide in 2019, accounting for 1 in 6 of all deaths, a new study says.
Of those pollution-related deaths, three-quarters — close to 7 million — were caused by outdoor or indoor air pollution. Toxic chemical pollution (including lead) caused 1.8 million deaths — a 66% increase from 2000 — and water pollution caused 1.36 million deaths, according to an update to The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health.
Deaths from industrial pollution skyrocketed from 3.8 million deaths in 2000 to 6.3 million deaths in 2019.
All this comes at enormous cost: Excess deaths due to pollution resulted in economic losses totaling $4.6 trillion in 2019, equal to 6.2% of global economic output, the researchers found.
Low- and middle-income countries account for 92% of pollution-related deaths and have the greatest burden of economic losses from pollution, according to the report in The Lancet Planetary Health journal.
"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," said study lead author Richard Fuller, from the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution in Geneva, Switzerland.
"Attention and funding has only minimally increased since 2015, despite well-documented increases in public concern about pollution and its health effects," Fuller said in a journal news release.
Little is being done to address this public health crisis, and the number of deaths caused by pollution in 2019 did not decline from the previous analysis in 2015, according to the authors.
Rising numbers of deaths from industrial pollution, such as air and toxic chemical pollution, nullify progress being made in reducing deaths associated with extreme poverty, such as household air and water pollution.
Pollution is the world's largest environmental risk factor for disease and premature death, the authors noted.
"Pollution is still the largest existential threat to human and planetary health and jeopardizes the sustainability of modern societies," said study co-author Philip Landrigan, director of the Global Public Health Program and Global Pollution Observatory at Boston College.
"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," Landrigan said in the release.