New Lancet report reveals pollution causes nine million deaths per year worldwide

According to a ground-breaking new report in the leading medical journal The Lancet, pollution in the air, water, soil, and the workplace is linked to an estimated nine million deaths each year worldwide equivalent to one in six (16%) of all deaths. This death toll is three times more than the number of AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria-related deaths combined, and 15 times greater than fatalities of wars and all other forms of violence. [Source: NPR

In the EU alone, pollution causes more than 400,000 deaths - representing 7.8% of all deaths. Most of these deaths are due to non-communicable diseases caused by pollution such as heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In the European Union (as in other industrialised regions), air pollution is the most harmful source of pollution, responsible for more than 280,000 deaths.1

The Lancet report on Pollution and Health is the first to analyse all forms of pollution (air, water, soil, occupational) and its impact on human health, the economy, and society.

The European Union is at the forefront of tackling pollution both within its borders and globally. In addition to specific laws such as the REACH chemicals law or air quality standards, the EU’s Environmental Action Programme (EAP) has been an important driver for pollution control action. With its emphasis on tackling environmental threats to health, the 7th EAP includes important pollution control goals.

The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health is a two-year project that has involved more than 40 international health and environmental authors, and provides new estimates on the effect of pollution on health and its economic costs. Using data from the Global Burden of Disease study, it examines outdoor and indoor air pollution, water, soil, and workplace pollution. 

This Lancet report was conceived to draw attention to pollution’s enormous impact, and to highlight that this fatal issue does not receive sufficient attention as well as showing that the issue of pollution is solvable. The report’s relevance to the European Union will be discussed during a panel discussion with authors and partners on the 26th October in Brussels. See the invitation here.

The report highlights the need to tackle sources of pollution associated with the healthcare sector, such as greenhouse gas emissions from the use of fossil fuels, pharmaceutical pollution, as well as patients’ and healthcare worker’s exposure to chemicals used in health facilities.

Further reading

Reducing healthcare's climate footprint: Opportunities for European hospitals and health systems (2016)
This HCWH Europe report presents a number of case studies of European healthcare systems implementing strategies to reduce healthcare's climate footprint, as well as an overview of the EU Climate and Energy policy landscape.

Safer Pharma Campaign
Pharmaceuticals in the environment are a global pollution problem – more than 600 pharmaceuticals and their metabolites have been found in the environment worldwide. They enter the environment (through water, soil, sludge, and organisms) at all stages of their life cycle and can end up in drinking water, and accumulate in fish, vegetables, and livestock. The aim of the Safer Pharma campaign is to protect the environment from pharmaceutical pollution at all stage of their life cycle – this campaign is coordinated by HCWH Europe, visit:

The WIDES Database for Choosing Disinfectants
This leaflet introduces the online database for professional users that evaluates the health and ecological effects of disinfectant products in order to make substitution easier for hospitals and healthcare settings.

Hazardous Chemicals in Health Care A Snapshot of Chemicals in Doctors and Nurses (2009)
This study reports on the first biomonitoring investigation of healthcare professionals conducted by Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR). The results were worrying; it was discovered that each participant had at least 24 individual chemicals in their body, and two participants had a high of 39 chemicals detected, and eighteen chemicals were detected in every single participant - all participants had Bisphenol A, and some form of phthalates.

1. Recent figures from the European Environment Agency (EEA) even estimated air pollution deaths in the EU at more than 399,000 in 2014. The EEA based its numbers on measurements of fine particulate matter (PM 2.5), nitrogen dioxide (NO), and smog (O3). The Lancet report bases its numbers of 2015 figures from household air pollution, ambient fine particulate pollution (PM2.5), and tropospheric ozone pollution, which explains the difference in findings. 


Preview image: Skaja Lee via Flickr cc