New study names modern pollution a major cause of premature deaths worldwide; US ranks in top 10

"Pollution is an enormous and poorly addressed health problem."


Air pollution killed 8.3 million people worldwide in 2017. A new study ranked the United States a the top 10 nation to have the most premature deaths caused by “exposure to toxic air, water, soil and chemical pollution.”

The study, conducted by the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAHP), published the 2019 Pollution and Health Metric: Global, Regional, and Country Analysis, which confirmed that “modern pollution” is on the rise killing one in seven people. Modern pollution is categorized as “types of pollution caused by industrialization and urbanization,” the report stated.

“Pollution kills three times as many people a year as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined. Pollution is responsible for 15 times the number of deaths caused by war and other forms of violence each year.”

The top 10 nations with the most air pollution-related premature deaths account for about 40 percent of the total deaths. India and China are ranked first and second with more than 2.3 million and 1.86 million total annual deaths, Common Dreams reported.

“The United States, the world’s third most populous country with 325 million people, makes the top 10 list by virtue of its size, while ranking 132nd in the number of deaths per 100,000 people,” according to the study. “In the U.S., air pollution is responsible for more than half of the pollution-related premature deaths.”

The study’s takeaway, outlined by Common Dreams, includes:

  • Pollution is the largest environmental threat to health;
  • Pollution has been severely neglected and has not received adequate attention at private or government levels; and
  • Pollution can be controlled with solutions that already exist.

GAHP used data from 2017 to updates an analysis from 2015 published in the medical journal, The Lancet, which confirmed 9 million air pollution related deaths. While this new study determined a reduction in deaths from 2015 to 2017, it was mostly reflective of “changes in calculations of methodology related to air pollution,” the study stated.

The results show a slight improvement in the number of premature deaths from traditional types of pollution—sanitation and household air contaminated by smoke from cook stoves—but deaths from modern pollution are on the rise.

“We’re facing serious risks from pollution and those risks are exacerbated by climate change,” Gina McCarthy, former administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said. “The U.S. has historically been the gold standard in tackling pollution, and today we are sadly not doing enough, and the fact that we’re going backward is unconscionable. This report reminds us that climate change isn’t just about faraway countries or forest fires and floods—it’s about our health and the health of our kids—here and now.”


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