Burning fossil fuels causes nearly 9 million deaths worldwide and an estimated 350,000 in the U.S. every year, according to a new study by scientists from Harvard and three British Universities, published in Environmental Research. The staggering death toll is more than double the WHO’s 2017 estimate of deaths caused by air pollution. “There’s a perception in the United States that we have this under control, but that’s a mistake,” Joel Schwartz, a Harvard professor and one of the study’s authors, told the Boston Globe.

Based on data from 2018, the scientists found nearly one-in-five deaths that year — and nearly a third of deaths in eastern Asia — were caused by burning fossil fuels. “We don’t appreciate that air pollution is an invisible killer,” Neelu Tummala, an ENT physician at George Washington University Medical School, told The Guardian. “The air we breathe impacts everyone’s health but particularly children, older individuals, those on low incomes and people of color. Usually people in urban areas have the worst impacts.”

The horrific toll of air pollution surprised even the scientists themselves. “We were initially very hesitant when we obtained the results because they are astounding, but we are discovering more and more about the impact of this pollution,” Eloise Marais, a geographer at University College London and a study co-author, told The Guardian. “It’s pervasive.”

Numerous respiratory diseases are linked to the combustion of fossil fuels, including from gas stoves in homes, and are a main physical symptom of environmental racism. (Boston Globe $, The Guardian, Reuters, Bloomberg $, DeSmog; Commentary: Thomson Reuters Foundation, Dr. Arvind Kumar & Gary Cohen op-ed)