Environment |Analysis

Why clean air and water is a matter of life and death

  1. Nine million died because of pollution in 2015
  2. One in four such deaths were in India
  3. Taking lead out of petrol has boosted US coffers by more than $6 trillion

Talk (15)

Angela Long

Angela Long

"Good man! Look forward to future col..."

Daniel Demaret

"I have had a last check, and I love w..."
Angela Long

Angela Long

"Daniel, I'm about to publish your pie..."
Angela Long

Angela Long

"Thanks Daniel .... yes, I see, our co..."
Global pollution - Wikimedia image
Factory fumes are just one part of the pollution story. Photo: Alfred Palmer/Public Domain

Pollution is the largest environmental cause of disease and premature death in the world today. Diseases caused by pollution were responsible for an estimated nine million premature deaths in 2015 —16% of all deaths worldwide — which is three times more deaths than from AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined, and 15 times more than from all wars and other violence. In the most severely-affected countries, such as India, pollution-related disease is responsible for more than one death in four. And these figures are only conservative estimates, according to this report in The Lancet.

The study

Apart from the human costs, pollution wastes a fortune financially, according to a new study by 40 international scientists published by the well-known medical journal in October 2017. The research was  conducted by about 40 international scientists, using data from GBD, the Global Burden of Disease study (2016) from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. The report also used data from a recent similar study undertaken by the WHO (World Health Organization).

The nine million lives are only the green tip of the pyramid below.

The green tip, denoting the nine million deaths, only includes well established pollution–disease pairs, for which there are robust estimates of their contributions to the global burden of disease. The associations between ambient air pollution and noncommunicable disease such as heart disease and cancer are the prime example.

The yellow layer represents emerging, but still unquantified, health effects. Examples include associations between fine-particle air pollution and diabetes, pre-term birth, and diseases of the central nervous system, including autism in children and dementia in the elderly.

The red layer includes new and emerging pollutants. Examples include electronic waste, pesticides and other pollutants in our food,  including new classes of pesticides such as the neonicotinoids; chemical herbicides such as glyphosate and nano-particles; and pharmaceutical waste.

On top of this, the GBD study also estimates that disease caused by all forms of pollution was responsible for 268 million effects known as DALYs. A DALY (disability-adjusted life-year) is a summary metric of population health that combines information on mortality and disease into a single number to represent the health of a population, thus permitting comparisons of disease burden between countries, between diseases, and over time. The 268 DALYs broke down to 254 million years of life lost and 14 million years lived with disability.

The numbers above only study premature deaths. Other recent studies show links between pollution and stress hormones, altered metabolism, and risks of kidney disease.

Costs of pollution are on the rise

Pollution-related diseases cause productivity losses that reduce gross domestic product (GDP) in low-income to middle-income countries by up to 2% per year. These conditions are also responsible for 1.7% of annual health spending in high-income countries, and for up to 7% of health spending in middle-income countries that are developing rapidly but heavily polluted.

Welfare losses due to pollution are estimated to amount to US$4.6 trillion per year: that’s 6.2% of global economic output.  This number is gauged by asking people how much they would be willing to pay for a few more healthy years of life.

For every dollar the U.S. invested in air pollution control since 1970, $30 has been returned to the economy. The reason, among other things, is less need for healthcare. And another financial benefit has been lead removal from fuel. This has returned an estimated $200 billion per year to the nation’s coffers since 1980, an aggregate benefit to-date of over $6 trillion.

The future

The reports urges countries in all income brackets to do more to control pollution  – for their economies as well as for health reasons.  Investment is recommended into pollution controls, the harm pollutants do, and improved future controls . Even as we today see great strides in the higher tech and lower costs of Wind and Solar energy, and great investments in each, it is obvious we should do a lot more.

Most deaths from air pollution are in low to medium income countries, most noticeably China and India, but air pollution knows no boundaries. Polluted air from China is increasingly being detected in the U.S.  In the UK  50,000 people die every year because of pollution, as London newspaper the Evening Standard notes from the Lancet report.

To see how pollution is affecting your neighbourhood, have a look at  www.pollution.org.

What is your life worth to you?

There is this myth that finance ministers still live by, that you have to let industry pollute or else you won’t develop. It just isn’t true.’ – Richard Fuller (British Conservative) 


Sources & References















Started by

Wikipedia enthousiast, M Sc Eng Physics, Software Developer, keen on philosophy and linguistics. I was contributor 8000-something.

History for stories "Why clean air and water is a matter of life and death"

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08 May 2018

Talk for Story "Why clean air and water is a matter of life and death"

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  1. Rewrite

    Daniel, I’m about to publish your piece if you want to take a last check.


    1. Rewrite

      I have had a last check, and I love what you’ve done.

      1. Rewrite

        Good man! Look forward to future collaborations.


  2. Rewrite

    Thanks Daniel …. yes, I see, our comments are back the front chronologically. No idea!


  3. Rewrite

    Daniel, I’m working on the piece…I don’t want to ‘do’ it all as that’s not the idea. With your science background, could you explain these in simple language for me…

    – “well established pollution–disease pairs”

    – PM2 air pollution

    – developmental neurotoxicants, endocrine disruptors, new classes of pesticides such as the neonicotinoids”

    I’m going to rework the latter part of the piece but that is editorial not factual.

    All best,


  4. Hi Angela, Thank you for pointing these out and letting me edit them. I had to look up 3 and 4, which I should have done from the start. Thank you also for making this article better. This reminds me of some articles in Wikipedia. I started a few articles, and for each piece of help, it always grew from measly stub, to acceptable and always to at least good enough , if not better, even without my help in the end. I attempted four changes visible under “history”: clarifications with links: pairs, PM2->particles, Electronic waste, pesticides and food. 1 “pollution disease pair” I thought this list would be the best way of explaining it https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_pollution-related_diseases 2 PM2 – should have been PM2.5. I changed from PM2 to “fine particles” and two links. Fine particles are devious, since this new type of particles are small enough to bypass our natural defences. https://www.health.ny.gov/environmental/indoors/air/pmq_a.htm https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Particulates#Size.2C_shape_and_solubility_matter 3. “develomental neurotoxins” Electronic waste covers “develomental neurotoxins” , so I changed to that. With a link. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electronic_waste 4. Endocrine disruptors come from: pesticides and other pollution in our food So I changed to that, plus links. I also added the links to the bottom, which is either “for good measure” or “superfluous”.

  5. How in the world did this piece of text ‘ 1. not come as a reply to Angela’s request and at 2. 12 hours ago? 3. Where did all the paragraph spaces disappear to ? “it’s a mystery” – from the movie , Shakespeare in Love.

  6. Hi Daniel, just saw the full Talk here … great, I’ll edit this and you can seen what I’ve done. Earlier I left a note, via my Profile page I think. I do need the WHO link but other edits I can do.

    Angela – Thurs pm.

  7. Daniel, just catching up with this. I’ll have a good read and get back to you Thursday. Angela

  8. Other

    I feel that short headers somehow do not seem to work as well as I had hoped. I had no headers at all in “How to make gold”. Perhaps I should avoid them in the future_

  9. It will be longer. There is a lot in the report in the Lancet that I think is worth writing. In this initial draft, the “cost” part, the bottom half are just personal ideas, which perhaps I should leave out of this. I shall let you know when I would like you to read it over.

  10. I thought that my answer would appear indented, as a reply to your text, Angela. It did not, so I am trying to make this text a reply – as a test.

  11. Hi Daniel, I was delighted to see you were doing this as hoped there would be a WikiTribune story on the report. Will it be longer? Let me know if you’d like it read over. Angela

    1. Rewrite

      I have made a rewrite. Would you care to read it?

      1. Rewrite

        NB: I am primarily here to beta-test. I am not an aspiring writer. I will trust yours, or any other Wikitribune journalist changes over my own, so please cut whatever you like. If not a jota of my text is left, that is totally fine by me.

        It is funny how my two first replies did not indent as a reply under your box before, but my latest replies properly indent now.

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