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Study: Worldwide Pollution Kills 9 Million People a Year

This file photo shows vehicle traffic in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019, as the city is covered a thick layer of smog. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup, File)
This file photo shows vehicle traffic in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019, as the city is covered a thick layer of smog. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup, File)
Study: Worldwide Pollution Kills 9 Million People a Year
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A new study suggests that pollution of all kinds kills about 9 million people worldwide each year.

Air pollution from industrial processes and the expansion of cities accounted for about 75 percent of the deaths, researchers found. Air pollution also drove a 7 percent increase in all pollution-related deaths from 2015 to 2019.

The study was a cooperative effort between environmental interest groups and scientists. It was based on examinations of worldwide death rates and pollution levels. The findings recently appeared in the publication Lancet Planetary Health.

The study separated traditional contaminants from more modern pollutants. Examples of traditional contaminants are indoor smoke or wastewater. Modern pollutants include air pollution from vehicles or industrial activities and poisonous chemicals.

The researchers found that deaths from traditional pollutants are dropping worldwide. But they still remain a major problem in Africa and some other developing countries. Contaminated water, soil and dirty indoor air made Chad, the Central African Republic and Niger the top three nations with the most pollution-related deaths.

In some countries, state programs to cut indoor air pollution and improvements in sanitation have helped reduce death rates. In Ethiopia and Nigeria, for example, such efforts cut deaths by two-thirds between 2000 and 2019, the study found.

Modern kinds of pollution are rising in most countries, especially developing ones, the researchers said. Deaths caused by modern pollutants – such as heavy metals, agricultural chemicals and carbon emissions – are "skyrocketing," said study co-writer Rachael Kupka. She heads the New York-based Global Alliance on Health and Pollution. Kupka said deaths linked to modern pollutants had risen 66 percent since 2000.

The study found that several major cities – including Bangkok, Beijing and Mexico City, had seen success in reducing outdoor air pollution. But in many smaller cities, pollution levels continued to climb.

The researchers noted that pollution now kills about the same number of people a year around the world as cigarette smoking and second-hand smoke combined.

“Nine million deaths is a lot of deaths,” Philip Landrigan told The Associated Press about the study results. He is director of the Global Public Health Program and Global Pollution Observatory at Boston College in Massachusetts.

“The bad news is that it’s not decreasing,” Landrigan added. “We’re making gains in the easy stuff and we’re seeing the more difficult stuff, which is the (outdoor industrial) air pollution and chemical pollution, still going up.”

The study makes several suggestions for ways to cut the number of deaths. These include creating better recording and reporting methods and stronger government policies to reduce pollution linked to industrial activities and vehicle emissions.

Dr. Lynn Goldman leads the George Washington University School of Public Health in Washington DC. She was not part of the study. Goldman told the AP she thinks such human loss to pollution is highly preventable. “Each and every one of them is a death that is unnecessary,” she said. Goldman added that the estimates in the study make sense to her, even though she thinks the number of pollution deaths is likely higher.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

Reuters and The Associated Press reported on this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the reports for VOA Learning English.

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Words in This Story

contaminant – n. something that makes materials dirty or poisonous

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

emission – n. the act of releasing something

skyrocket v. to rise quickly or make extremely fast progress toward success