Pollution has been a persistent problem for decades, and its impact on human health is more significant than we may have realized. According to a study published in The Lancet in 2022, air, water, and soil pollution are major culprits behind a staggering number of deaths, making it vital to act now to mitigate the devastating effects of pollution.
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The Study’s Findings
Pollution remains the foremost global threat to environmental health, causing disease and premature deaths. Shockingly, over 90% of these deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. According to Richard Fuller, the lead author of the report, this appalling toll persists due to a lack of attention and insufficient outcry regarding the issue.
Based on the analysis utilizing 2019 data from the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors, it is clear that air pollution is responsible for the vast majority of premature deaths, totaling 6.7 million. Water pollution accounts for 1.4 million deaths, while lead poisoning claims almost a million lives. These findings echo a previous study conducted by Fuller and his colleagues in 2015, which also identified air and water pollution as the primary culprits.
Although the overall number of pollution-related deaths has remained constant over the last five years, the sources of pollution have changed in certain regions. Previously, the majority of pollution-related deaths were caused by indoor and household air pollution, which resulted from the emission of fine particles of soot from indoor stoves burning wood or dung. Additionally, unclean water and untreated sewage also claimed over a million lives. However, in recent years, this particular source of pollution has decreased as many households in China and India have transitioned to gas for cooking purposes.
The Issue Persists
In 2019, a significant number of countries worldwide witnessed a higher number of deaths caused by outdoor air pollution and toxic chemicals compared to indoor air pollution and water contamination. For instance, China alone reported over 2 million fatalities resulting from industrial and chemical pollution, while traditional sources accounted for approximately 367,000 deaths.
Traditional pollutants remain the primary cause of pollution-related diseases and deaths in Africa, although industrial pollution is becoming more prevalent. According to the researchers, deaths from modern pollution sources have increased by 7% between 2015 and 2019 and have skyrocketed by 66% since 2000.
Furthermore, these deaths have a significant economic impact on a country’s gross domestic product (GDP). In South Asia, for example, air pollution-related deaths alone resulted in a 10.3% global domestic product loss in 2019. Worldwide, deaths attributed to air pollution have led to a 6.1% reduction in economic output. In a recent study, it was discovered that the world’s 20 largest economies are responsible for two million air pollution-related deaths due to outsourcing production to developing nations. Keisuke Nansai, the lead researcher of the study conducted in November, warns that without intervention, the number of deaths in low-income countries will continue to rise.
While it is important to highlight the effects of pollution on human health, the impact of air pollution, particularly the effects of diesel emissions on the environment, cannot go unnoticed. They play a vital role in the generation of ground-level ozone, a harmful substance that harms crops, trees, and other plants. Additionally, they give rise to acid rain, which negatively impacts soil, lakes, and streams and even enters the human food chain through water, produce, meat, and fish. Overall, the effect of pollution on the environment directly impacts public health and well-being.
Recommendations from the Researchers
Fuller and his colleagues propose several recommendations to combat pollution. They emphasize the need for a global effort to establish pollution monitoring systems and provide funding for pollution control projects. Fuller is now calling for increased attention and action from organizations and governments on pollution issues. He expresses his surprise at the lack of progress in recent years, particularly in country development strategies.
To address this issue, he and co-author Rachael Kupka are working through the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution network. They organize workshops in various countries, bringing together departments from different sectors to develop comprehensive action plans. These departments include health, transport, finance, and agriculture ministries.
The Need for Action
The study’s findings underscore the need for immediate action to address pollution. This includes both individual and government efforts to reduce pollution levels. Individuals can take steps to reduce their contributions to pollution, such as choosing low-emission forms of transportation or helping in the legal fight against it. You can go to https://www.emissions.co.uk to get more information about what you can do as a consumer and citizen.
Governments, on the other hand, must take a more active role in reducing pollution. This includes enacting stricter regulations on industrial pollution and investing in cleaner forms of energy. Additionally, governments can work towards increasing access to healthcare, particularly in vulnerable communities, to help mitigate the risks of pollution-related illnesses.
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