China’s ‘airmageddon’ could cause over 250,000 premature deaths

Press release - 2015-02-05
4 February 2015, Beijing - Over a quarter of a million people in some of China’s major cities could have their lives cut short because of high levels of air pollution, unless authorities get to grip with the country’s smog crisis, a new study warns.

Research by one of China’s leading universities found that an average of 90 out of every 100,000 people living in the country’s 31 provincial capitals could die prematurely from long-term exposure to the high levels of fine dust pollution recorded in 2013.

This is the first major study to use PM (particulate matter) concentration data recorded in each of China’s provincial capitals to map out the long-term impacts of urban air pollution on premature mortality.

The analysis, co-worked by Peking University and Greenpeace, also shows that if the affected cities were to slash pollution in line with national air quality standards, 41 premature deaths per 100,000 people could be avoided.

The publication comes in the thick of China’s annual ‘airmageddon’ season – which has seen severe, persistent air pollution in Beijing, Tianjin and cities in neighbouring Hebei Province.

The megacity of Shijiazhuang in Hebei province has the highest annual average of PM 2.5, and consequently it has a rate of 137 premature deaths per 100,000 – the highest of the 31 capitals.

Greenpeace East Asia campaigner Fang Yuan said:

“These findings lay bare once again the paradox at the heart of China's old development pattern relying on dirty industry. Prosperity and living standards keep growing, yet tens of thousands of people in the country's largest cities are seeing their lives cut short by alarming levels of air pollution.

“It need not be so. The fact that China's coal consumption is falling while the economy keeps expanding shows that smog-choked cities are not the inevitable by-product of business growth.

"With tens of thousands of lives hanging in the balance, it's crucial that Chinese authorities move swiftly to implement plans to curb coal burning and clean up air pollution."

Researchers used PM 2.5 data from 2013 and the methodology from the World Health Organisation’s Global Burden of Diseases to project the premature deaths that could occur as a result of air pollution. The premature deaths related to 2013 air pollution levels could occur at various points in the future – from one year to 10 years.

The level of risk placed on air pollution levels by the Global Burden of Diseases is calculated by looking at the impact on public health from specific diseases related to air pollution. These are ischemic heart disease, lung cancer, cerebrovascular disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

The Peking University researchers used the baseline of the WHO’s air quality standard of 10 micrograms per cubic metre of PM 2.5 – annual average (mean) – which the data shows was breached several times over by the all of the cities.


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