Monday April 22, 2024

This polluted world

By Michelle Chen
January 04, 2020

The way we live is killing us. Pollution – whether it comes from a car’s tailpipe, a coal-fired power plant, or a toxic waste dump – claimed more than eight million lives around the world in 2017, fully 15 percent of all deaths.

That’s according to a new report published by the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution, a coalition of environmental and health institutions and agencies.

In fact, pollution is the world’s leading cause of death, ahead of tobacco use, drug and alcohol use, and even war. And the United States is one of the leading sources of pollution-induced death. The Global Alliance on Health and Pollution study, drawing on data from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, frames pollution as one of the world’s largest, yet most neglected public health threats.

On top of mass mortality, pollution in 2017 resulted in the equivalent of 275 million years of Disability-Adjusted Life Years, a measure of the years that individuals lose to illness, disability, or premature death. Roughly five million deaths are attributed to polluted air, mostly from outdoor sources in urban and industrialized areas.

Altogether, the estimated health burden of pollution from air, water, lead contamination, and workplaces reflects a cross section of human suffering worldwide, the vast majority concentrated in low and middle-income countries. But one of the top countries for pollution-related death is among the richest: the United States ranks number seven, with some 197,000 deaths due to pollution.

That ranking – just behind Bangladesh, and just ahead of Russia and Ethiopia – is in large part a function of the large US population. When ranked by pollution-related deaths per 100,000 people, the United States drops to 132nd in the ranking. Nonetheless, since about half of those deaths are in China and India, two relatively poor countries, the United States stands out for its extreme wealth and extreme inequality.

And, according to two Natural Resources Defense Council experts, senior advocate Juanita Constible and senior scientist Kim Knowlton, the U.S. pollution-related death will likely “climb in the coming years if the Trump Administration has its way.” Massive deregulation by Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency, they warned, could “reverse decades of progress toward a cleaner environment and healthier people.”

While pollution plagues many regions of the country, the Trump Administration has been steadily dismantling two bedrock laws, the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. The EPA, now headed by a former coal-industry lobbyist, has dramatically weakened pollution controls for factories and chemical plants, undermined fuel efficiency standards, and is working to repeal long-standing restrictions on hydrofluorocarbons from cooling and refrigeration.

“Many people may assume that because the United States is a wealthy, developed country, that we’ve somehow moved past the point of thousands of deaths caused by pollution,” Bill Magavern, policy director of the California Clean Air Coalition, tells The Progressive in an interview. But that hasn’t happened because corporations have systematically weakened or co-opted agencies through “regulatory capture.”

Trump has acted as “the lapdog of the fossil fuel industry,” Magavern says. “Unfortunately, we have a President who has really made himself the polluter-in-chief and is making our air and water dirtier rather than cleaner.”

But the pollution epidemic may be even worse than it sounds. The study’s primary data set omits several common toxins: plastics, pesticides, chemicals that act as endocrine disruptors, mercury, and pharmaceutical wastes. Occupational hazards, which are specifically related to the work environment, cause about 800,000 deaths through “occupational carcinogens, second-hand smoke, particulates, gases, and fumes.”

Excerpted from: ‘Dirty Air and Water Is Killing Us’.