Skip to content

20 October 2017, Brussels – Pollution in the air, water, soil and in the workplace is linked to an estimated nine million deaths each year worldwide – equivalent to one in six (16%) of all deaths, according to a ground-breaking new report in the leading medical journal The Lancet. In the EU alone, pollution causes more than 400,000 deaths which represents 7.8% of all deaths. Most of these deaths are due to non-communicable diseases caused by pollution such as heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

In the European Union like in other industrialised regions, air pollution is the most harmful source of pollution, responsible for more than 280,000 deaths (1). Germany, Italy, the UK, Poland and France rank the highest in terms of number of deaths attributable to pollution (see EU backgrounder).

The Lancet report on Pollution and Health is the first to analyse all forms of pollution (air, water, soil, occupational) and their health, economic and social impacts.

Genon K. Jensen, Executive Director of the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) commented:

Pollution poses substantial risks to public health and the environment and leaves no country and no one unaffected. It is more than an environmental challenge – it is a major threat that affects health, wellbeing and human rights, and disproportionally impacts those most vulnerable, such as children, and the poor. This report shows that we have the necessary data to address this problem and more importantly, that we can win.

The European Union has been at the forefront to tackle pollution both within its borders and globally. In addition to specific laws such as the REACH chemicals law or air quality standards, the EU’s Environmental Action Programme (EAP) has been an important driver for pollution control action. With its emphasis on tackling environmental threats to health, the current 7 EAP includes important pollution control goals.

The report confirms that there is no time for complacency for EU policy-makers. Tackling pollution for better health is a ‘big issue’ that should be a higher priority. We’re calling on this Commission to start the work on an 8th EU Environmental Action Programme. President Juncker can leave a legacy that would set a high bar for the EU’s pollution control efforts for the next decade and give the details of how to reach the Sustainable Development Goals.

Janez Potocnik, Former European Commissioner for the Environment, Pollution and the Circular Economy, added:

Pollution is a very serious, in many ways neglected, problem caused by human activities. The Lancet Report is an important contribution to raising awareness. We must deal with the impact of pollution we are already facing, but it is most important to address the drivers and causes. Changing the way we produce and consume would decrease pollution and is thus essential – the concept of circular economy could play an important role in that.

Note to editors

The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health is a two-year project that has involved more than 40 international health and environmental authors, and provides new estimates on the effect of pollution on health and its economic costs. Using data from the Global Burden of Disease study, it examines outdoor and indoor air pollution, water, soil, and workplace pollution.

This Lancet report was conceived to bring attention to pollution’s enormous impact, notice that we have not paid sufficient attention to it, and show that it is solvable. The concept was developed by Rich Fuller of Pure Earth, and Dr. Philip Landrigan of Mt Sinai, co-chairs of the Commission. They can be contacted directly as per below.

The report’s relevance to the European Union will be discussed during a panel discussion with authors and partners on 26 October in Brussels. See the invite online:

For more information on the report’s findings related to the EU:

Read the EU backgrounder
Read the EU Annex
Read the Global Annex
Read the full report

(1) Recent figures from the European Environment Agency (EEA) even estimated air pollution deaths in the EU at more than 399.000 in 2014.The EEA based its numbers on measurements of fine particulate matter (PM 2.5), nitrogen dioxide (NO) and smog (O3). The Lancet report bases its numbers of 2015 figures from household air pollution, ambient fine particulate pollution (PM2.5) and tropospheric ozone pollution, which explains the difference in findings.

Rich Fuller, +1 (212) 870 3490,
Dr Philip Landrigan, +1 (212) 241 5959,

HEAL contacts:
● Elke Zander, Communications and Media Coordinator,
● Vijoleta Gordeljevic, Health and Climate Change Coordinator,

Download the press release

The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) is a leading European not-for-profit organisation addressing how the environment affects health in the European Union (EU). With the support of more than 70 member organisations, HEAL brings independent expertise and evidence from the health community to different decision-making processes. Our broad alliance represents health professionals, not-for-profit health insurers, doctors, nurses, cancer and asthma groups, citizens, women’s groups, youth groups, environmental NGOs, scientists and public health research institutes. Members include international and Europe-wide organisations as well as national and local groups. Website: Follow HEAL on Facebookand Twitter @HealthandEnv and @EDCFree.

Back To Top