Pollution-related deaths are skyrocketing worldwide. The fact that our situation is relatively good is also due to the fact that polluting industries have been moved to poorer countries.
Infectious diseases quickly make us nervous because they are transmitted by invisible pathogens – Corona, for example. We are more relaxed towards non-contagious persons. They are also reaching pandemic-like dimensions – environmental pollution, for example.
Pollution: Nine million deaths per year worldwide
Since the turn of the millennium, premature deaths from industrial, transport and agricultural pollution have increased by 66 percent. This is shown by an international study in which scientists from the University of Munich (LMU) also participated. More than nine million people die from environmental diseases each year – that’s one in six deaths worldwide. The results of the study have now been published in the Lancet Planetary Health journal.
“Lead alone kills more people worldwide than malaria”
Air pollution from traffic and industry and exposure to heavy metals are drivers of mortality statistics. “More people die from lead alone than from malaria,” says Stephan Böse-O’Reilly, head of the Global Environmental Medicine and Climate Change Working Group at LMU’s Institute of Occupational, Social and Environmental Medicine. According to the study, over 90 percent of these deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries.
The situation in India seems to be particularly dramatic
“In India, for example, the situation is dramatic,” LMU said in a statement. Many people lived close together there, water pollution was high, and air pollution related to traffic was extremely high. Charcoal is often used for indoor cooking, while industrial exposure to outdoor pollutants is neither adequately regulated nor monitored.
Criticism: “The EU has externalized pollution”
In the EU, on the other hand, according to the results of the study, pollution seems to be a relatively minor problem. “Environmental pollution in the European Union has improved significantly,” says environmental doctor Böse-O’Reilly, “especially air pollution has improved on the one hand through regulatory measures. That’s why we have relatively fewer deaths from environmental pollution, certainly not from mercury or lead, and if so, then from fine dust in the outdoor air.”
On the other hand, according to scholars, Europe is doing so well because industrial production has shifted to low- to middle-income countries. “If you close an aluminum plant in the North Sea and reopen it in Asia, the associated exposure becomes a health problem for the population there,” emphasizes Professor Böse-O’Reilly, “but we continue to use the products.” Pollution is therefore a global problem, with far-reaching responsibility for rich industrialized countries.
Pollution and climate change are closely related
“If we want to give people more healthy years of life, policy must address the global problem of environmental pollution,” says Böse-O’Reilly. Pollution is closely related to climate change because air pollutant emissions have a lot to do with carbon dioxide emissions. The Munich environmental doctor predicts: “If we were to improve the CO2 situation, environmental pollution would automatically decrease.”