Study: Pollution Kills More People Than War, Smoking, Hunger, and Other Causes of Death

220px-AlfedPalmersmokestacksWe have previously discussed how environmental dangers remain something of an abstraction for most people who fail to recognize that changes in air or water pollution standards results in high and quantifiable rises in death rates.  Even changes in areas like shipping fuels can translate to thousands of deaths.  However, since these deaths are not immediate and borne privately, the true costs of pollution are often dismissed.  I have been highly critical of the environmental record of the Trump Administration for this reason in rolling back on protections in a variety of areas as well as appointing regulators with anti-environmental records.  Now a new major study has found that environmental pollution kills more people every year that all of the wars.  It exceeds the death tolls for smoking, hunger or natural disasters combined. It kills more than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined. Yet, unlike these causes of death, pollution remains a policy concern that is often pushed to the side for more immediate goals like job creation.  This is not to say that environmental protection would trump all other concerns but rather the real costs of such pollution are rarely discussed in real terms of premature deaths by politicians.

The study in the respected Lancet medical journal found that one out of every six premature deaths in the world in 2015 was caused by toxic exposure.  That amounts to 9 million people who died prematurely due to pollution.  The study also found that the cost of the resulting illnesses and deaths amounted to some $4.6 trillion in annual losses.

Worse yet, the 9 million deaths from pollution appears a highly conservative estimate since it relied on only limited data on specific measurable cases of deaths and illnesses. The actual number is likely much higher. Moreover, only half of the 5000 news chemicals introduced since 1950 have actually been fully tested for their toxicity.

Obviously, the rate of death is higher in developing countries, though we are now experiencing heavy pollution migration from Asia.  In India, an astonishing one out of every four deaths are attributed to pollution. In China, there is a term for “cancer villages” in which a huge percentage of the citizens are developing cancers due to horrific environmental conditions. In China, one out of every five deaths are attributed to pollution with 1.8 million premature deaths a year.


People rarely associate changes in environmental regulation to their own risk of death or illnesses like asthma.  The result is that it is difficult to defend environmental protections on a cost/benefit basis despite the fact that the costs are quite high for many environmental rollbacks.  Jobs and tax cuts tend to be more quantifiable in the minds of voters even though one cannot avoid the environmental costs from increased air pollution or water pollution.  Again, this does not mean that we yield to all countervailing environmental concerns but rather this study (and others that we have discussed) show that the true costs of environmental rollbacks are far higher than presumed in the public

96 thoughts on “Study: Pollution Kills More People Than War, Smoking, Hunger, and Other Causes of Death”

  1. Totally off topic. For some reason, I haven’t been receiving notifications about new blog posts from this site. I checked to ensure I was still “Following” and supposed to receive E-mails for new notifications. I thought the normally prolific Turley was on vacation. No conspiracy theories (yet). Has anyone else experienced something similar?

    1. enigma – glad to see you back. 🙂 Was beginning to worry and thought we were going to have to send out search parties. Make sure that you check both those little boxes if they show up. That happens if you reboot your computer, clean your cache, etc.

    2. Enigma – there’s a reason why we affectionally call it WordMess. I used to have trouble with my posts getting caught in the filter. Did you check your Spam?

      1. I did check my spam and they were all there. Even after pointedly marking posts as “Not Spam” they are still going there. For the time being, I’ll just check my spam folder regularly.

  2. As an asthmatic and conservations, and general human being, clean air is a cause close to my heart. This is going to be a long post, so I will break it up.

    I wish I had an account with The Lancet, because I would like to see their methodology.

    Environmental toxins and pollution do affect public health, but it is difficult to measure.

    Deaths and illness associated with pollution are notoriously difficult to track and document. I have asthma, which is worsened by the interminable fires we have in CA, particulate dust blowing around, chemicals, and other triggers. What percentage of my baseline worsened from my time in the lab? If I get cancer, was it because I was exposed to acrylamide, benzene, or working with radioactive material in my unshielded hands? When you work in a lab with radio labeled material, you wear a lead apron, and stand behind a clear shield, but at the level I was working at, you would reach your hands around the shield to work, just wearing nitrile gloves. Your dosimeter only measured exposure to your body, because radioactive exposure to your hands doesn’t really count, as we were told. Although I must have had a genetic predisposition to asthma, was it triggered because of pollution? It is so difficult to tease out the effect of one single cause from the cumulative and synergistic effects of all factors combined.

    The easiest adverse effects to track are those acute instances, like someone gets an immediate reaction to a blast of gas.

    Take the largest natural gas leak in history, the Alison Canyon/Porter Ranch leak in CA. Natural gas is proclaimed as clean on buses across CA. But it actually emits benzene and other carcinogens and toxins.

    According to Wikipedia (sorry, I’m pressed for time) (

    “An estimated 97,100 tonnes (95,600 long tons; 107,000 short tons) (0.000097 Gt) of methane and 7,300 tonnes (7,200 long tons; 8,000 short tons) of ethane were released into the atmosphere,[8] The initial effect of the release increased the estimated 5.3 Gt of methane in the Earth’s atmosphere by about 0.002%, diminishing to half that in 6-8 years.” It will actually impact the methane level of the Entire Earth, measurably, for years.

    “Local residents have reported headaches, nausea, and severe nosebleeds.[4] About 50 children per day saw school nurses for severe nosebleeds.[29] There have been more than usual eye, ear and throat infections.[21] By December 25, 2015, more than 2,200 families from the Porter Ranch neighborhood had been temporarily relocated, and more than 2,500 households were still being processed.[34] As of January 7, 2016, 2,824 households or about 11,296 people had been temporarily relocated by SoCal Gas,[28] while more than 6,500 families have filed for help.[37] Two schools were relocated in January.[14]”

    It was disheartening to see how slowly information about the leak was disseminate to the community, and evacuations commenced. Homes were coated with a film of toxic chemicals. Kids were sickened. One would think that an alarm would sound and the entire community emptied within an hour, but it was weeks and weeks of denying it even happened. This was all over CA media.

    The sharp uptick in headaches and nosebleeds are easily attributable to the leak, because there were no other factors that changed. Those who died and suffered pulmonary decline had serious underlying conditions. Lawyers argue that it is difficult to tell what their condition would have been without the leak. It is difficult to prove, without a very unethical study, if that push was enough to cause lasting damage, or if their condition would have declined anyway. Asthma tends to decline. So, how to prove that their decline was worsened by their exposure to toxic gas? Personally, I think it was causative, but what percent?

    “Since the 100,000 metric tons of methane that spewed from one of 115 aged wells is unprecedented, no one can point to past studies or research on the health effects of such an exposure.”

    Nordella said a flood of patients with sore throats, congestion, headaches and rashes were turning up at his Porter Ranch urgent care facility in October of 2015, and he couldn’t quite understand what was happening.

    There was no widespread announcement that a massive natural gas leak had been occurring in nearby Aliso Canyon and no immediate countywide instructions for physicians in the San Fernando Valley on what they should be doing.

    But as news began to spread that a ruptured well was releasing thousands of metric tons of methane into the air, as more than 8,000 families relocated and two elementary schools were shut down and thousands of residents complained of nosebleeds, nausea and headaches, Nordella realized there was nothing in the literature that is known about the chemicals that were being released and how they affect the human body.

    When SoCalGas conducted air tests in 2015 and last year, results showed elevated levels of benzene, a documented carcinogen. Hydrogen sulphide also was present.

    AQMD officials said in their report at the time that the benzene and other toxic chemicals found increased the cancer risk for Porter Ranch residents, though they posed no greater health danger than the typical Southern California air, the report concluded.

    One must note that our own AQMD claims that the carcinogenic exposure to benzene would pose no greater health risk than the general air in CA.

    “One file Nordella has reviewed is of a child from Porter Ranch who has a rare case of aplastic anemia, which can be caused by exposure to toxic chemicals. Since the illness has such a low incidence rate per 1 million people, the doctor is concerned there could be more cases in the San Fernando Valley.”

    One tool we lack is epidemiological information across the country. We should be tracking allergies, asthma, cancer, non genetic orphan disorders, and other canaries in the coal mine of environmental toxins and radon exposure. Right now, we depend on people in a poisoned community realizing there’s a problem, talking to each other, complaining to their politicians, public health officials coming together, the inevitable denials…The process takes years. If there was some sort of blind database, we would see sharp upticks quicker and respond better.

    1. I do agree that we should keep our air as clean as possible.

      There are several issues in this worthy cause.

      For one, we stand on our holy high horse, while we have China do our dirty work. We sneer at their miasma of toxic air, but it’s party our fault. Even our clean green solar panels produce toxins during their manufacture in China. How many times do we vote for environmental protections, and employee benefits that drive up the cost of labor, and then when it’s time to spend our own money, we buy the cheap stuff, made by people making slave wages in deplorable conditions, and which poisons China’s environment to make. And then we have the gall to frown upon their environmental record? We send almost all of our recycling plastics to China now. We get the Gold Star for recycling. But China gets the toxins from the actual recycling process. And they do not have our worker and environmental protections. Their mess is, in part, our mess, and we have to clean our act up.

      For another, those who enact environmental laws and regulations seem to have absolutely no idea how to fold that into a business environment. They just want to roll their hands, and suddenly everyone’s tractor trailers suddenly have zero emissions but still the same torque, with absolutely no impact on the price of food. A single tractor trailer costs as much as a house in some states, and it suddenly becomes obsolete without a reliable replacement. There is this attitude of let them eat cake. Every time there is a new regulation, the cost of gas, bread, milk, eggs, hay, and everything else that is trucked or shipped increases. Even the price of seeds to grow in your own backyard would increase. And that matters, too, because people still need to eat. Truckers do not have the money to junk their vehicles and purchase a whole new one. And the alternatives also have issues. Look at the ethanal disaster and its links to Monsanto. How many orangutans have been killed to cut down their habitat and plant biofuel. Forests that clean our air and produce oxygen are removed and replaced with biofuel crops that contribute very little to our oxygen and air scrubbing factories.

      It makes more sense to require new trucks to have certain clean technology than to suddenly remove all trucks without replacing them with the owners. But we have to spend our treasure on a vacation train instead.

      Here is a Liberal newspaper’s derogatory take on Republican efforts to help businesses afford to go clean:

      “To comply with federal law, the South Coast Air Quality Management District issued a blueprint last week outlining the rules, policies and programs the agency would enact to cut pollution dramatically enough for the nation’s smoggiest region to finally meet federal Clean Air Act standards by 2023. Instead, the plan the AQMD released relies on billions of dollars in currently nonexistent incentives to encourage businesses and individuals to switch to low-emissions cars, trucks and other equipment. It’s another troubling sign that the agency, operating under a new Republican-majority board of directors whose members have pledged to reduce environmental regulations, is backsliding on clean air and protecting public health.”

      It is gauche, apparently, to be so environmentally irresponsible as to fold, or increase prices, in order to afford new trucks that cost over $100,000. Not all environmental regulations actually help the environment. Some are just fees that don’t actually clean a single molecule of our air.

      “That essentially pushes the burden of cleaning the air from the polluter to the taxpayer.” Actually, if the government showed up in your driveway and said that your car was decertified and all gas vehicles were now banned from the road, what would your reaction be? If you said you couldn’t afford to get an electric vehicle (and the grid can’t handle our current electrical drain, anyway), and the government said tough, would you find that fair? If the government takes away your livelihood, do they bear any responsibility or should you just be left destitute? What if your inability to work in your chosen career means that no milk can be delivered to stores? I see this all the time. People stop going to horse shows and choose another venue, because their semi won’t pass CA standards. It’s hard to find a hay shipper for the same reason. Our gas was just taxed, twice, in order to help pay for that damned vacation train slow speed rail, which means that shippers are even less likely to want to work in our state. The price of everything goes up with the price of gas, which hits the poor the hardest. What do Democrats tell them? Eat cake? We’re starving you for the environment? Complain about the cost and you’re a bad person?

      What about the stupid road diets? California sprawl is not conducive to rapid transit. That is why most buses run empty around CA. A metro link ride will take many, many times as long as simply driving because of all the stops and rail changes. So to force people out of their cars, Democrats hit upon the idea of road diets. They claim that congested areas have too many traffic fatalities, so they literally take away lanes. Even though taxpayers built those roads, we are not allowed to use them. They slow traffic down to a crawl, forcing people to speed through residential neighborhoods, desperately seeking a detour. People cannot get home. They spend hours more away from their families and are exhausted and angry when they come through their door. They miss spending time with their kids. Firetrucks, police, and ambulance can’t get through. It’s deplorable, but unassailable because it’s for the environment and public safety.. This is what happens with Big Government. Big Government decided that people should take rapid transit. People decided that rapid transit is too slow, too inconvenient, doesn’t have a stop they want, or maybe they don’t want to be crammed into a box with a lot of coughing people during cold season. So Big Government takes away the roads to force the helpless people into rapid transit. We know what’s best for you. Better living though big government. Resistance is futile.

      Instead of dehumanizing those who cannot afford these regulations, there should be an effort to help and understand their position. And any fees and regulations that do not actually yield a clean air payoff, but are simply more fees for government to waste, should be revisited.

  3. With all this talk of pollution, I thought I would revisit an old “friend,” the Interesting article concerning Fukushima from Veterans Today, the Fukushima Daiichi plant debacle and get some perspective. Basically, at the time of the article (May 28, 2011), it states the radiation released at

    “Fukushima Equals 3,000 Billion Lethal Doses.”

    it goes on:

    “Three thousand billion (3,000,000,000,000) Lethal Doses of Radiation means there are 429 Lethal Doses chasing each and every one of us on the planet, to put it in a nutshell. This is up from about 70 Billion Lethal Doses March 23, 2011.”

    Sounds like our fate may already be sealed. Or at least a strong biological marker has been placed to trace back future mutations.

    The article can be found here:

    1. You, along with most others, have been seriously misled. The LNT hypothesis for low level radiation is wrong, strongly overestimating the risks. Read Wade Allison’s “Radiation and Reason”.

      1. I’m somewhat familiar with that, and have been skeptical of that as well. Especially if Ann Coulter is on the bandwagon. Makes it a lot easier to send out overly enriched fuel rods for older reactors if you don’t have to worry about the possibilities. Read some of the the ticking time bomb info about the nuclear industry and how the NRC is merely an enabler, like most gov institutions these days. Energy from thorium.

  4. I wish that we had footage of the streets and cites between 1840-1910. The airborne soot is still visible around the roof lines of many buildings built around that time. The pollution is even visible in some interiors. The pollution had to be choking even in the smallest of cities. During the great building boom of the 2000s, as building engineer and I had lots of up close exposure to this as many of these buildings where rehabbed or renovated.

    The fact is that we live in better times than anytime through human history.

    The government might put in requirements and regulations that might attempt to mitigate pollution. Yet isn’t it funding or subsidizing those solar farms in the southwest that are killing off thousands of birds? Government creates a HUGE problem whilst trying to stop a small one. The politicians appeal to one of their special interest groups, gain control of private industry and their citizens and feather their own nests.

    I’ve been through several rounds of government intervention and bright ideas for energy conservation and pollution control. All of them have ended up with disastrous results. I cannot think of one regulation that didn’t have unintended consequences. The ICC (not government) will sort it out.

    It took John Stossel 20 years of beating his head against the wall to finally realize “No, they can’t”.

    Maybe there’s man caused global freezing/warming/change (whatever the name change is this decade). I’m skeptical because none of the studies include variables of the SUN. Scientific method that would be considered a pretty big variable. Yet if it’s true, the government is much likely to make it worse.

    1. Great post, Marie. Unintended consequences are my pet peeve.

      People do fail to understand that we keep getting cleaner. I recall finding some home management books for housewives from long ago. The cleaning protocol was different than today, due to the soot expected to be inside the home. In the book North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell, included a scene in a home that had a single white room: white carpet, white drapes, and white bric a brac. The message was of extreme wealth, because only an enormous staff, working diligently and constantly, could keep the black soot at bay enough for anything to appear white, let alone an entire white room.

  5. We have 51 EPAs in this country ! Many times the states are in the drivers seat and the feds are playing catch up. When Obama signed the order on methane capture for gas rigs Ohio already had the policy in place the feds only added paper work. California has always led in automotive standards and whacky things like the cancer warning sticker included with extension cords.
    I don’t think the feds actually can care more about my environment than I do .

    1. Ohio – due to CA regulations, almost every restaurant or store I have ever entered carries the warning sign that this sight contains chemicals that may cause cancer or reproductive harm. And since we see them everywhere, we ignore them. They have no meaning or cause any change in behavior.

      1. Yes, the stickers constant presence means they fade into the background. But also people’s behavior doesn’t change because by now even non-scientists have been told that the doses used to induce cancer in rodents are much higher than those to which the public is typically exposed, no matter what EWG says. Nice posts, Karen S.

  6. This is not news. Harvard Professor Tom Lehrer has identified and spoken out against the pollution menace scores of years ago:

  7. Strangely readers of this blog are loath to admit that pollution could be a health problem. Why is that?? Could it be that acknowledgement of the issue gives credence to Climate Change??

    1. Strangely readers of this blog are loath to admit that pollution could be a health problem. Why is that?? Could it be that acknowledgement of the issue gives credence to Climate Change??

      I have no idea what the readers think unless they comment. Those that comment don’t strike me as unwilling or unable to admit anything. I see their skepticism as a rational approach to determining what, if anything should be done. Why the skepticism? Because they are not emotional morons unflinching in their desire to drop their pants for the government every time a study finds a problem. Instead, these loathe to admit commenters are only loathe to drop their wallet in front of these bureaucratic schemers who have no compunction to take it, suck it dry and create a far greater problem than the one they claimed to be solving; usually involving less freedom, less liberty and most certainly fewer individual rights.

    2. Climate changes all the time. I am skeptical of how data has been presented–and in cases manipulated to forward an agenda. When the Climate alarmists refuse to debate other scholarly research, there is a problem.

      1. There’s no debate anymore. It’s only the Koch Brothers questioning Climate Change. And right-wing media is happy to assist them.

          1. The Koch Brothers, for the record, are not shy about acknowledging the intense efforts they’ve put in to casting doubts on Climate Change. They’ve have literally spent millions to fund bogus studies and reports by ‘friendly’ scientists. Their campaign is largely based on efforts waged by Big Tobacco denying links to cancer.

            1. No. The Koch brothers are assiduous philanthropists. The notion that the studies are ‘bogus’ is your asinine gloss.

    1. Include yourself as such since you refuse to put your “easy-to-come-by-scientific-insight” to the acid test. The burden of proof is on you; all you need is one well-done presentation to scientifically refute a presented hypothesis. Just because you choose not to accept them is your issue.

      1. Study “Principles of Planetary Climate” by Ray Pierrehumbert. Then comment.

        1. With whatever uncertainty there is with climate change, there is a what I believe to be an irrefutable fact: When approaching any uncertain topic and making a decision having that uncertainty, we must recognize we can be wrong. If we take great substantial measures to eliminate human-made toxins from the environment and we find that the environmentalists were wrong, we really did not lose much other than money. But, if climate change skeptics are wrong otherwise and we go on polluting the Earth until a crisis becomes insurmountable we’re finished. And if we are finished, all that money goes for naught.

          It’s true that “you can’t take it with you” after death. It applies to species also. If so, humanity will need to come to terms its own mortality eventually. Because for probably thousands of years in the future we will have nowhere else to go but our Earth.

          1. Darren Smith, your argument is a fascinating reversal of Pascal’s Wager; such that, instead of eternal life in the next world being the infinite winnings for the deceased, the world that we will leave behind us when we die shall become either the bequeathed winnings or the disinherited losses for the future generations of humankind.

            Maybe it’s not really our farm to bet.

  8. Smoking: The topic does not get much attention on this blog. Guns are quicker.

  9. I suggest ( in my Best British Barrister speak) the use of altered facts to gain funding and the inflated claims resulting may have influenced the public in the wrong direction as the subterfuge was admitted to – enough to create an unintended but deserved aura….Aura… perhaps stench might suit . Result real valid needful concerns have been impolitely elbowed aside to the benefit of some but not to the benefit of the goal simply stated is being ‘good stewards’ of the land and by extension the entire system known as Terra including the species human.

    In USA speak Too much BS killed the goose and burn the eggs. the problem is now lack of trust and belief due to hucksters and shysters

    1. End Parentheses, is there any chance that you used to post under the name Michael Aarethun?

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