Pollution is one of the biggest global threats. Toxic pollution from contaminated sites affects over 200 million people worldwide, with tens of thousands poisoned each year.
One in seven deaths. WHO statistics show that 56 million people died in 2012 worldwide. Of those, nine million died because of pollution. In other words, pollution killed one in seven people.
Pollution is the leading cause of death in low- and middle-income countries. Of the 9 million people killed by pollution worldwide in 2012, 8.7 million deaths occurred in low- and middle-income countries. They are the poisoned poor. Pollution is the silent killer of millions in poor countries.
Pollution exacts a greater toll than even some of the most dangerous diseases. Figures from2012 show that pollution killed two-thirds more people than malaria (625,000 deaths), HIV/AIDS (1.5 million deaths), and tuberculosis (930,000 deaths) combined.
Children are particularly vulnerable. While children under six make up only 20% of the world’s population, over 40% of the global burden of disease falls on them. Toxic pollution has a bigger impact on their smaller bodies, interfering with their development, inflicting damage that can last a lifetime. Children can be poisoned just by running around barefoot in their homes or villages.
Pollution is one global problem that can be managed in our lifetime. Life-threatening pollution has already been eliminated in much of the developed world through initiatives like the Superfund in the U.S. and similar efforts in other countries. The technology and know-how to clean up toxic pollution already exists. All that is needed are resources and commitment.
The majority of pollution is caused by small-scale informal operations rather than large multinational companies. However, demand for consumer goods from high-income countries still drive pollution activities in low-income countries.
Solving pollution problems usually promotes, rather than inhibits, economic growth. Solutions can increase access to valuable resources, such as more efficient recovery of lead from battery recycling, or reclamation of land in urban areas.
Pollution does not stop even when the source of the pollution is removed. This is called legacy pollution. The Cold War, for example, has left a toxic legacy in the form of derelict and abandoned old weapons and chemical factories. The affected population will continue to suffer unless cleanup is conducted.
Pollution can vastly lower life expectancy. In some of the world’s worst polluted places life expectancy can be as low as 45 years because of lung, throat and thyroid cancers.
Death is not the only end result. Pollution causes chronic illness, neurological damage and a range of diseases that might not kill but might incapacitate a person or result in irreversible damage. For instance, the presence of lead in children lowers I.Q. by an estimated 4-7 points for each increase of 10 μg/dL. In some of the world’s worst polluted places, babies are born with birth defects, children have lost 30 to 40 IQ points.
Pollution affects everyone. While pollution affects the immediate population the most, its effects are felt far and wide because of the globalized economy. In addition, some pollutants, like mercury, travel into rivers and seas worldwide, poisoning the seafood supply.