A high price for environmental chemical exposures: $7.5 trillion annually

It is hard to put a specific dollar value on a tree, a clean river, or a human life. However, new research attempts to put a cost on the burden of disease caused by environmental pollutants worldwide. The report looked at “exposures to contaminants such as air pollution, endocrine-disrupting chemicals, lead, mercury, pesticides, and flame retardants and calculat[ed] how much they end up costing societies due to illnesses, reduced brain function, health care bills, and lost wages and productivity for employers.”

Published in Environmental Health in December, researchers calculated that environmental chemical exposures contribute costs that may exceed 10 percent of the global domestic product, some $75 trillion in 2016.

This study is in response to a recent Lancet article, which determined environmental exposures resulted in about 5 percent of disability-adjusted life years lost, a measurement which considers both duration and quality of life. The authors, from Harvard University and the EHESP School of Public Health in Paris, thought these findings substantially underestimated the economic costs associated with preventable environmental risk factors and explored the topic further. They found that only substantial health effects were considered. For example, they looked at lead poisoning, but did not look at the intellectual deficits and the costs associated with those deficits as a result of lead poisoning. Also certain toxicants — such as mercury and pesticides — were not included in the Lancet report. The authors note they hope the study will get into the hands of policymakers and health care providers, because these impacts are preventable and the gain could be substantial.  

[Source: Environmental Health News]