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Pollution Causes 9 Million Premature Deaths a Year

October 20, 2017

So says a study by the Lancet, which found that one in every six deaths around the world is linked to toxic air, water, soil, or workplaces. That’s more deaths than are caused annually by smoking, AIDS, or malaria.

Sadly, though perhaps predictably, 92 percent of those deaths occur in poor nations. That’s a problem exacerbated by the fact that international welfare costs linked to pollution are estimated to total $4.6 trillion a year, which places particular strain on developing economies. And all these figures may be an underestimate, the researchers note, because many links between health and pollution remain too poorly defined to be included in the analysis.

The report shows that so-called “traditional” forms of pollution, such as water contamination and poor indoor air quality from cooking over open fires, are in decline, thanks to development initiatives meant to increase basic living standards. But “modern” pollution, from such sources as fossil-fuel power plants and internal-combustion engines, continues to rise.

Tech advances may help with that. As we’ve reported in the past, for instance, the expense of renewables is outweighed by the savings they provide inthe form of improved public health, while a push toward electric cars could soon begin to clean up city air. But in practice, governments will need to make firm commitments to encouraging the rollout of such technologies if they’re to have a noticeable impact.

Given its push to quickly roll back environmental regulations, the news should, perhaps, give the Trump administration cause to shift uncomfortably in its seat. “Should” being the operative word.

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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