How Many Deaths Worldwide are Caused by Pollution?

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Researchers have estimated that the effects of pollution may be far greater than previously thought. A study reported on its worldwide impact.


Many studies have examined the relationship between overall health and pollution. In fact, a 2015 study on global pollution showed that an astonishing one in six deaths worldwide is related to it. It is important to realize that pollution is more than an environmental problem; it is a threat that surrounds us all and negatively affects everyone’s health and well-being.

A short summary article was recently published in the British Medical Journal, reporting results from a study that was originally published in the Lancet journal looking at the association between pollution, health effects, and death rates worldwide.

The researchers in this study defined pollution as “unwanted, often dangerous, material that is introduced into the Earth’s environment as a result of human activity, that threatens human health, and that harms ecosystems”. Even though research has indicated that it is a serious global health issue that affects the environment, health, and the economy among other areas, environmental protection has not received significant international aid. This study was conducted to assess how much of an impact it was having on early deaths in countries all over the world.

The study revealed that pollution contributed to as many as nine million deaths a year worldwide; up to one in six of all deaths. Researchers estimated that in 2015 pollution (of all types) was a strong determinant in 26% of all deaths from ischaemic heart disease. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they combined all types of pollution and found that it was a major determinant in 43% of lung cancer deaths.

It turns out that most of the pollution-related deaths reported in this 2015 study were from a variety of non-contagious diseases such as lung cancer and heart disease among others. Ninety-two percent of these pollution-related deaths occurred in low and middle-income countries, though it affected all counties somewhat. In fact, 50,235 deaths were related to pollution in the United Kingdom, most of those deaths (28,346) were related to air pollution specifically.

These results are striking and may provide the impetus needed to spur worldwide action in environmental protection. In their conclusions, the researchers suggested that future work is dedicated to understanding the health effects and health risks of recently introduced pesticides, with special attention paid to the effects on brain cells.

Written by Melissa Booker

Citation: Mayor, S. (2017). Pollution is linked to one in six deaths worldwide, study estimates. BMJ, 4844(17), j4844. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.j4844

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