Exposures to environmental pollutants during windows of developmental vulnerability in early life can cause disease and death in infancy and childhood as well as chronic, non-communicable diseases that may manifest at any point across the life span. Patterns of pollution and pollution-related disease change as countries move through economic development.
Environmental pollution is now recognized as a major cause of morbidity and mortality in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). According to the World Health Organization, pollution is responsible for 8.9 million deaths around the world each year; of these, 94% (8.4 million) are in LMICs. Toxic chemical pollution is growing into a major threat to children’s health in LMICs.
The disease and disability caused by environmental pollution have great economic costs, and these costs can undercut trajectories of national development. To combat pollution, improved programs of public health and environmental protection are needed in countries at every level of development. Pollution control strategies and technologies that have been developed in high-income countries must now be transferred to LMICs to assist these emerging economies to avoid the mistakes of the past.
A new international clearinghouse is needed to define and track the health effects of pollution, quantify the economic costs of these effects, and direct much needed attention to environmental pollution as a risk factor for disease.