Global Pollution-Caused Mortality

November 2017 VOL 16 No. 1

Nicholas R. Hild, PhD.

As many Journal readers know, over the past several years, the Arizona Environmental Strategic Alliance (AESA) has co-sponsored numerous seminars on air pollution with both Pinal County and Maricopa County Air pollution regulatory agencies. In 2018, more air quality seminars will be held with those agencies but now that we have moved the Journal for Environmental Management to an ONLINE format, we can provide more timely information about pollution (of all genres) on a more frequent basis, just by updating this website as new data and critical information becomes available.

And, this new ONLINE format allows those of us who write for the Journal to bring you breaking news and up to date information on a much more timely basis than the bi-monthly print edition ever could. Such is the case with this edition, my first of our ONLINE Journal articles. In addition, we can facilitate "hot links" to take you right to the source of the data or crucial information and that will allow you to utilize the data immediately with just a click of the cursor.

So, to begin our ONLINE Journal series, the first reference I want you to know about is the British Medical Journal, The Lancet. If you have not used it before, it is an excellent ONLINE source of referred research papers and articles that deal with human health, medicine, and the environment and you need to bookmark the Lancet in your URL's of important sources of environmental health studies.

The study referenced here, produced by the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health in 2017 was first brought to my attention by Danial Salzler's Watershed Info (No. 920), in the November ONLINE newsletter (also an excellent source of Arizona "water and watershed" information and another URL you need to bookmark, especially if you are concerned about water issues in Arizona.

This Lancet commission report was produced by more than 40 researchers from governments and universities across the globe and was funded in part, by the UN, the EU, and the US. The full text of the final Commission report can be found at:

The Commission found that contaminated air, water, soils and worker exposure in workplaces (i.e. pollution of all kinds) is the largest environmental cause of disease and premature death in the world today. The study concluded that diseases caused by pollution were responsible for an estimated Nine Million premature deaths in 2015—16% of all deaths worldwide—three times more deaths than were caused from AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined and 15 times more than from all wars and other forms of violence. In fact, in the most severely affected countries, pollution-related disease is responsible for more than one death in four.  

The Commission report combined data from studies conducted by the World  Health Organization (WHO) with other relevant  environmental health research and concluded that, of all the types of pollution the Commission studied, air pollution was the biggest cause of deaths, from a variety of causes including heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and other illnesses. The leading pollution-cause of death was outdoor air pollution, mostly from vehicles and industries, causing more than 4.5 million deaths a year. Contaminated indoor air (pollution), from wood and dung stoves mostly in third world countries, caused 2.9 million deaths a year. Not surprisingly, low-income and rapidly industrializing countries have the highest mortality rates, suffering 92% of pollution-related deaths.

In this study, the countries with the most deaths caused by 'pollution' were Somalia and India, where both traditional and 'modern' pollution are severe with India having by far the largest number of pollution deaths at 2.5 million per year. China is second with 1.8 million. Interestingly, industrialized countries Russia, Japan, and the United States, are also ranked in the top ten for pollution-caused deaths. In fact, the US and Japan are in the top ten countries for deaths caused by 'modern' types of pollution such as air pollution emissions from the burning of fossil fuels, especially from coal and oil fired power plants.

Water pollution was the 'genre' of pollution with the second highest cause of (global) mortality, most often with contaminated water, mostly sewage, which was linked to 1.8 million deaths as from gastrointestinal diseases and parasitic infections. Exposure to workplace pollution was the third leading 'pollution' cause of death, including exposure to chemical toxins, carcinogens, and secondhand tobacco smoke, resulted in 800,000 deaths from diseases including pneumoconiosis in coal workers and bladder cancer in dye workers.

Indoor/workplace pollution-caused deaths was followed closely by deaths attributed to exposure to lead pollution, the one metal for which some data is available. Lead exposure (pollution) was linked to 500,000 deaths a year. It should be noted that another Lancet Commission has been assembled to study the mortality and morbidity rates of lead pollution in the environment. That study should be completed sometime in 2018 and will only add to the statistics found in this Commission on Pollution and Health study and, when completed, will likely raise the number of pollution-caused deaths worldwide.

Lancet Commission study on Pollution and Health represents one of the most comprehensive analysis of global pollution ever undertaken, concluding that the growing crisis "threatens the continuing survival of human societies". To see the staggering magnitude of how that finding is distributed across the globe, go to and be amazed! The sheer magnitude of the number of pollution-caused deaths across the world which is illustrated here only further intensifies the critical role we all share in finding ways to reduce the global impact of our environmental footprint for the benefit of our children's, children's, children.


This area will be reformated at a later date.