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Report: Pollution Remains Largest Environmental Threat to Human Health

FILE - Plumes of smoke rise from Europe's largest lignite power plant in Belchatow, central Poland, Nov. 28, 2018.
FILE - Plumes of smoke rise from Europe's largest lignite power plant in Belchatow, central Poland, Nov. 28, 2018.
Report: Pollution Remains Largest Environmental Threat to Human Health
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A new international report says pollution remains the largest environment threat to human health.

The report, by the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAHP), estimated that pollution was responsible for 15 percent of all deaths worldwide in 2017.

The organization said the number of premature deaths from pollution reached 8.3 million people worldwide that year. That is three times higher than the worldwide death totals from AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

The GAHP is made up of more than 50 members, including United Nations agencies, world governments, environmental groups and educational organizations. It seeks to raise international attention about pollution issues and help governments create solutions to fight the problem.

The GAHP said that more than 90 percent of the pollution-related deaths occurred in developing countries. The report noted that such deaths remain a “neglected” issue, especially in low- and middle-income countries.

The writers of the report said international efforts have helped to reduce the effects of traditional pollution sources, such as poor sanitation and smoky cooking fires. But they noted that modern pollution from cities and industrial production is increasing.

The report suggests that a worldwide health crisis “is, in fact, still undercounted, still under-addressed [and] still under-resourced," GAHP’s acting Director Rachael Kupka said.

The research follows up on a major report released in 2017 by the publication The Lancet. That report was created by an international group of university researchers, national health ministries, nongovernmental organizations, the World Bank and the United Nations. The group looked at the causes of death and disability in four areas: air, water, job-related risks and lead exposure.

In the GAHP report, India and China had the largest total number of pollution-related deaths. They were followed by Nigeria, Indonesia and Pakistan. The United States was seventh.

"There are countries from almost every region of the world present in that top 10 list," Kupka said. "We really are all impacted. It doesn't matter where you are."

Pollution-related deaths per 100,000 people were highest in Chad, Central African Republic and North Korea. India still ranked high on the list, at number 10.

Research has shown that pollution raises the risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, lung disease, and other conditions. The report said pollution adds more years of disability worldwide than smoking, alcohol and drug abuse, as well as wars and violence.

The GAHP noted that its latest estimates likely represent an undercount. For example, the group did not include major pollution sources such as pesticides and mercury.

Kupka says researchers will aim to center on those issues in the next pollution report in The Lancet, which is planned for 2021.

The good news, Kupka said, is that controls already exist to help reduce the harmful effects of pollution. She urged officials in problem countries to recognize and enforce emissions controls for vehicles and smoke sources. She said protective equipment for workers should also be provided, as it already is in many countries.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

Steve Baragona wrote this story for VOA News. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for VOA Learning English, with additional information from the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

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Words in This Story

premature adj. happening too soon or before the usual time

neglect v. to not give something enough care or attention

income n. money earned through working, investing or producing goods

sanitation n. a system for protecting people's health by removing dirt and waste

exposure n. coming in contact with something

follow up – v. to continue or complete something started earlier

impact v. to affect

emission n. the act of releasing something