Pollution racks up 9 million deaths a year worldwide

Pollution causes 9 million deaths around the world every year, according to a landmark new study which found that one in six of all deaths are linked to polluted air, water and soil.

Research carried out by leading medical journal The Lancet has found that an estimated 9 million deaths globally are caused by pollution. Equivalent to one in six of all deaths.

The study is the first of its kind to take into account all forms of pollution, including air, water, soil and occupational, as well as their effects on health, society and the economy.

More specifically, it found that pollution is responsible for more than 400,000 preventable deaths in the European Union alone, This tallies to nearly 8% of all mortalities, with air pollution being the chief culprit.

These deaths are mostly linked to non-communicable diseases such as heart problems, strokes, lung cancer and pulmonary disease.

In the EU, Germany, Italy, the UK, Poland and France have the dubious honour of topping the list of most deaths attributable to pollution.

Genon K. Jensen, the executive director of the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), welcomed the report and said it “shows we have the necessary data to address this problem and more importantly, that we can win”.

Anti-pollution efforts have increased in recent years, as the threat posed to public health and the environment has been proven time and time again. EU legislation on chemicals and air quality, such as the REACH law, aim to curb levels as much as possible.

Former EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik also hailed the Lancet study and insisted that “changing the way we produce and consume would decrease pollution”, adding that the circular economy has a big part to play.

The bloc’s Environmental Action Programme (EAP) is now in its seventh iteration and Jensen called on European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to initiate work on the eighth as it would “leave a legacy that would set a high bar for the EU’s pollution control efforts for the next decade”.

EU efforts will be assessed next year by the European Court of Auditors, which will launch an in-depth look at how Brussels has tackled air quality concerns. Urban areas most affected by pollution, including Brussels itself, will be evaluated.

Pollution in its many forms is also set to play a central role in the United Nations’ upcoming environment assembly in Nairobi. “Towards a pollution free planet” will put a particular focus on air and water pollution, as well as more specific issues like lead, plastics and pesticide contamination.

Ahead of the December assembly, the UN has also launched its ‘Beat pollution’ initiative, which calls on people to sign a pledge online committing to changes that will contribute to a cleaner world. It has so far been signed by over half a million people.

The UN hopes the Nairobi meeting will kick off a process that will see its 193 members agree that pollution is a significant threat and that joint action is needed. The Minamata Convention on mercury poisoning, which recently came into force, has been touted as a possible model for future anti-pollution efforts.

Sam Morgan, EurActiv.com

This article first appeared on EurActiv.com, an edie content partner

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