A new report says pollution has been responsible for an estimated nine million premature deaths a year.

The figure represents 16 per cent of all deaths worldwide, is higher than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined, and more than 15 times more than all wars and other forms of violence.

Children were found to be at higher risk, with even low dose exposure in utero and early infancy potentially resulting in disease, disability and death.

The report is an initiative of The Lancet, the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

One of its authors is University of Queensland researcher Professor Peter Sly, who says the report should cause health authorities to take notice.

“The key messages are that pollution has a major impact on health, particularly in low and middle income countries, and it actually costs more to do nothing than to implement proven solutions,” he said.

Prof Sly said pollution is not widely recognised as a health problem in Australia, but there is a body of research which suggests that it is.

“There are peer-reviewed studies which show that exposure to pollutants causes higher levels of respiratory illnesses and impacts foetal growth,” he said.

“While we are not Beijing or Delhi, we can still measure and demonstrate health impacts of pollution on the Australian population, and water contamination from firefighting foam is just one recent example.”

The Commission, which includes representatives from the United Nations Development Program and the World Bank, has found that reducing pollution presents an incredible opportunity to save lives and grow economies.

“Many of the pollution control strategies have proven cost-effective in high and middle income countries, and are ready to be exported and adapted by cities and countries at every level of income,” Prof Sly said.

“The report urges countries to include pollution planning into their planning processes, and ask for support from development assistance agencies to design and implement programs that reduce pollution and save lives.”

The report is accessible here.