“The world doesn’t care enough about pollution. We think of pollution as an environmental issue. We do not think of pollution as a health issue.” -Karti Sandilya, Senior Advisor, Pure Earth

A staggering 9 million premature deaths in 2015 can be attributed directly to pollution, according to new comprehensive study on pollution and health from The Lancet Commision. This report is the first of its kind to collect data on disease and death caused by all forms of pollution worldwide.

9 million premature deaths – one out of every six – are attributed to disease from unhealthy toxins in the water, air and soil. This is more than a high-sodium diet, obesity, alcohol, traffic accidents, or malnutrition. The number of pollution-related deaths each year is even more than AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria…combined! Even crazier, pollution kills 15 times more than all the world’s current war and violence.

India takes the lead as being the most polluted in the world. In 2015 pollution is estimated to be the cause of one out of every four premature deaths in India. While India has recently put restrictions on emissions, there is still a lot of pollution regulation that needs to be done.

Pollution Deaths

Africa and Asia are regions where pollution in the air, water and soil put the most people at risk. The pollution.org website presents worldwide data on the extent of all measured forms of pollution.

Data is given in Death or DALY metrics from the The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health. Data is presented on a country by country basis

Infographic on The Lancet Commission Pollution Study. Courtesy: Mount Sinai Health System.

In Los Angeles, CA the number of “smog days” has certainly diminished over the years thanks to regulation and legislation put forth by the city and state. Even still, the city battles poor air quality. Google recently partnered with environmental intelligence companies on a project that took high-resolution air pollution measurements in various California cities using Google street cars. The hyperlocal pollution data measured by the Google street cars “helps these efforts by identifying problematic hot spots not captured by regional monitoring, visualizing patterns on the neighborhood and community scale, and measuring the efficacy of pollution-reduction solutions at the local level where they are applied.”

Developing countries look to the West for examples on how to reduce harmful pollution. Nearly 92 percent of pollution-related deaths occur in the world’s poorest countries where the primary concern isn’t pollution but developing their economy, reducing poverty and building infrastructure. Ignoring pollution problems actually hurt a country’s economy. Even the smallest exposure to pollution, especially in children, can have a lifelong impact of disease and disability that ultimately lowers learning and the ability to become a productive member of society.

About 6.2 percent of the world’s economy – $4.6 trillion in annual losses- is from pollution-related death, disease and lifelong disability.

The interconnectivity between pollution, health, and poverty is becoming more apparent. In December the United Nation Environmental Assembly will gather for its first pollution conference. We’re headed in the right direction.