Air Pollution Related Deaths Concentrated Among Minorities and the Poor Interview with:

“air pollution, beijing” by 大杨 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Air Pollution, Beijing

Philip J. Landrigan, MD, MSc, FAAP
Dean for Global Health
Professor of Preventive Medicine and Pediatrics
Arnhold Institute for Global Health
Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

  1.  Pollution is the largest environmental cause of disease and premature death in the world today.  It is responsible for 9 million deaths per year – 16% of all deaths worldwide – three times more deaths than AIDS, malaria and TB combined.  These numbers are growing from year to year as pollution in many parts of the world increase.
  2. Pollution is highly unjust. 92% of all pollution-related deaths occur in low-and middle- income countries, and in the United States and other high-income countries pollution-related disease and death are concentrated among minorities and the poor.  Think Flint.
  3. Pollution is very costly.  Pollution-related diseases cause productivity losses that reduce GDP in low- and middle-income countries by up to 2% per year. Pollution-related disease also results in health-care costs that are responsible for 1.7% of annual health spending in high-income countries like the US and for up to 7% of health spending in heavily polluted and rapidly developing low- and middle-income countries.
  4. Pollution is neglected and its control is seriously underfunded.
  5. The good news is that despite its great magnitude and long-standing neglect, pollution can be controlled, and pollution prevention is highly cost-effective. Pollution is not the inevitable consequence of economic development. High-income and some middle-income countries have enacted legislation and issued regulations mandating clean air and clean water, established chemical safety policies, and curbed their most flagrant forms of pollution. As a result, our air and water are now cleaner, the blood lead concentrations of our children have decreased by more than 90%, our rivers no longer catch fire, our worst hazardous waste sites have been remediated, and many of our cities are less polluted and more livable. Health has improved and people are living longer. High-income countries have achieved this progress while increasing GDP by nearly 250%. The claim that pollution control stifles economic growth, kills jobs and drags down the economy is false and has repeatedly been proven to be untrue. Pollution control is a winnable battle, and the control of pollution will return billions of dollars to the economies of countries around the world as it has already in the United States. What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

We point out in the report that pollution and climate change are inextricably entwined.  Both arise mainly from the same source- combustion.  And any action to control one will control the other.

The main recommendations of the report are that:

  1. Pollution prevention must become a high priority nationally and internationally, and be integrated into country and city planning processes.
  2. Dedicated funding must be mobilized for pollution control.

At present, pollution control is grossly underfunded internationally and in countries around the world

  1. Effective systems must be established to monitor pollution and its health effects.

Both exposure data and health data are needed

  1. Pollution mitigation needs to be integrated into the World health Organization’s Global Plan for Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases70% of the disease caused by pollution is non-communicable disease, but pollution is barely mentioned in the NCD action plan. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: Undertake research to establishes additional causal links between pollution and disease; to map pollution in countries around the world; and to better estimate the economic costs of pollution and the economic benefits of pollution control Thank you for your contribution to the community.


The Lancet Commission on pollution and health

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.


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Last Updated on October 20, 2017 by Marie Benz MD FAAD