Study: PM2.5 kills like smok­ing

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By ZHENG JINRAN in Bei­jing zhengjin­ran@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Pre­ma­ture deaths re­lated to PM2.5 pol­lu­tion in 31 ma­jor Chi­nese cities reached 257,000 in 2013, mak­ing it a ma­jor killer equiv­a­lent to smok­ing, ac­cord­ing to a year­long study re­leased on Wed­nes­day.

The study, con­ducted by Green­peace, the en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion group, and Pek­ing Uni­ver­sity’s School of Public Health, took each of the 31 ma­jor Chi­nese cities’ av­er­age PM2.5 con­cen­tra­tion and ap­plied a World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion model to es­ti­mate health ef­fects.

It fo­cused mainly on four con­di­tions, in­clud­ing lung can­cer and stroke, which have been tied to ex­po­sure to the fine par­tic­u­late mat­ter.

The WHO model is au­thor­i­ta­tive, said Pan Xiaochuan, pro­fes­sor of public health at Pek­ing Uni­ver­sity and one of the study’s au­thors.

The study said there were around 90 pre­ma­ture deaths for ev­ery 100,000 peo­ple from PM2.5 pol­lu­tants, which are air­borne par­ti­cles smaller than 2.5 mi­crons in di­am­e­ter that can pen­e­trate the lungs.

That means, for ex­am­ple, that in Bei­jing, pol­lu­tion-re­lated deaths would have ex­ceeded 18,000 in 2013.

The rate was higher in heav­ily pol­luted cities like Shi­ji­azhuang, He­bei prov­ince, and Ji­nan, Shan­dong prov­ince, the study said, adding that the num­ber of deaths caused by PM2.5 pol­lu­tion may equal those from smok­ing.

Some public health ex­perts were skep­ti­cal of the claim, say­ing that be­cause PM2.5 pol­lu­tion af­fects hu­man health over time, it may take a decade or two to quan­tify its ef­fects ac­cu­rately.

While they shared con­cerns about PM2.5 pol­lu­tion’s ad­verse ef­fects on hu­man health, some took is­sue with the de­tails of the study.

“The coun­try has started to in­ves­ti­gate the health ef­fects, but it will take one or two decades to get re­sults based on long-term track­ing of some pa­tients,” said Zhi Xi­uyi, head of the Lung Can­cer Di­ag­no­sis and Treat­ment Cen­ter of the Cap­i­tal Med­i­cal Uni­ver­sity.

He said air pol­lu­tion could ex­ac­er­bate some dis­eases, such as those re­lated to the lungs, and lead to de­lays in re­cov­ery, but it’s hard to say that PM2.5 pol­lu­tion was the ma­jor fac­tor in a death.

More­over, some of the 31 used in the study did not re­lease data on PM2.5 in 2013, he said, lead­ing him ques­tion the re­sults.

“I think that the re­sults could be in­flat­ing the num­ber of deaths re­lated to PM2.5 pol­lu­tion due to mul­ti­ple fac­tors,” Pan said, although he said it’s le­git­i­mate to seek un­der­stand­ing about the ef­fects on hu­man health.

Dwight Clark, Med­i­cal Direc­tor of US-Sino Heart­Care in Bei­jing, said ev­ery in­crease of 5 mi­cro­grams per cu­bic me­ter of PM2.5 par­ti­cles means an 18 per­cent in­crease in lung can­cer.

How­ever, he stressed that no mat­ter what num­bers are re­leased from var­i­ous or­ga­ni­za­tions, the peo­ple and gov­ern­ments should no­tice that air pol­lu­tion is bad and get­ting worse.

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