More than 3 million people, a record number, suffered premature deaths from air pollution in 2010, according to a new report published in the Lancet. For the first time, air pollution has moved to the top 10 list of killers, making it a top public health concern surpassing even high cholesterol.
For comparison, air pollution killed just 800,000 in 1990. Pollution and related deaths have surged in countries seeing economic gains, like China and India, although technology and new standards can mitigate the problem around the world. In East Asia, pollution ranks fourth, behind smoking, as a high risk factor.
These deaths are largely preventable. David Pettit at NRDC writes:
Fortunately there are many actions that can be taken to address outdoor air pollution. The technology is readily available at a fraction of the investment cost compared to the health costs that the public bears. We can replace polluting old engines with much cleaner new models. Alternative fuels and more efficient equipment can address global warming pollution in addition to traditional air pollutants like soot. Renewable-based electric power can replace polluting diesels and other fossil fuel engines in virtually every sector.
The U.S. took additional steps this year by releasing mercury standards for coal-fired power plants, which is estimated to save up to 11,000 lives annually.