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19 May 2022

Pollution is responsible for one in six deaths each year

Nine million people a year die from pollution, more than the number who die from smoking.

By Nick Ferris

Pollution is responsible for nine million deaths around the world each year. That’s more people than are killed by diabetes, dementia, HIV, tuberculosis and malaria combined. It’s almost as many as are killed by cancer (10.6 million), and more than are killed by smoking (7.7 million).


The nine million figure comes from a major study carried out by scientists for the Lancet medical journal, looking at 2019 data for deaths. The previous such study, which looked at data from 2015, also found that nine million people per year died of pollution. While deaths from household air pollution and water pollution have fallen since then, deaths from outdoor air pollution and from chemical sources of pollution such as lead have increased.

Pollution does not hurt people equally. More than 90 per cent of pollution-related deaths occur in low-income and middle-income countries. And just as the volume of fossil fuels we burn each year increases, so too does air pollution and the risks related to it.

The amount of highly polluting coal and gas that humans burned in 2021 increased to a level greater than that seen in 2019, the year before the pandemic, according to data from GlobalData. Industrial cities across the world also continue to be hit by smog events that are devastating for human health.

“We cannot continue to ignore pollution,” warn the authors of the Lancet study. “We are going backwards.”

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