Air pol­lu­tion killing 4,000 in main­land China a day: study

The China Post - - LIFE -

Air pol­lu­tion is killing about 4,000 peo­ple in main­land China a day, ac­count­ing for 1 in 6 pre­ma­ture deaths in the world’s most pop­u­lous coun­try, a new study finds.

Physi­cists at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley, cal­cu­lated that about 1.6 mil­lion peo­ple in China die each year from heart, lung and stroke prob­lems be­cause of in­cred­i­bly pol­luted air, es­pe­cially small par­ti­cles of haze. Ear­lier stud­ies put the an­nual Chi­nese air pol­lu­tion death toll at 1 to 2 mil­lion, but this is the first to use newly re­leased main­land Chi­nese air mon­i­tor­ing fig­ures.

The study re­leased Thurs­day blamed emis­sions from the burn­ing of coal, both for elec­tric­ity and heat­ing homes. The study, to be pub­lished in the jour­nal PLOS One, uses real air mea­sure­ments and then com­puter model cal­cu­la­tions that es­ti­mate heart, lung and stroke deaths for dif­fer­ent types of pol­lu­tants.

Study lead au­thor Robert Ro- hde said that 38 per­cent of the main­land Chi­nese pop­u­la­tion lives in an area with a long-term air qual­ity av­er­age that the U.S. En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency (EPA) calls “un­healthy.”

“It’s a very big num­ber,” Ro­hde said Thurs­day. “It’s a lit­tle hard to wrap your mind around the num­bers. Some of the worst in China is to the south­west of Bei­jing.”

To put main­land Chi­nese air pol­lu­tion in per­spec­tive, the most re­cent Amer­i­can Lung As­so­ci­a­tion data shows that Madera, Cal­i­for­nia, has the high­est an­nual av­er­age for small par­ti­cles in the United States. But 99.9 per­cent of the eastern half of main­land China has a higher an­nual av­er­age for small par­ti­cle haze than Madera, Ro­hde said.

“In other words, nearly ev­ery­one in China ex­pe­ri­ences air that is worse for par­tic­u­lates than the worst air in the U.S.,” Ro­hde said.

In a 2010 doc­u­ment, the EPA es­ti­mates that be­tween 63,000 and 88,000 peo­ple die in the U. S. from air pol­lu­tion. Other es­ti­mates range from 35,000 to 200,000.

Un­like the U.S., air pol­lu­tion in main­land China is worst in the win­ter be­cause of burn­ing of coal to heat homes and weather con­di­tions that keeps dirty air closer to the ground, Ro­hde said. Bei­jing will host the 2022 Win­ter Olympics.

Out­side sci­en­tists praised the re­search. Jason West at the Univer­sity of North Carolina said he ex­pects “it will be widely in­flu­en­tial.”

Allen Robin­son at Carnegie Mel­lon Univer­sity said in an email that parts of the United States, like Pittsburgh, used to have al­most as bad air but have be­come much cleaner “through tough reg­u­la­tions com­bined with large col­lapse of heavy in­dus­try (it moved to Asia).”

As main­land China starts to clean up its air, lim­it­ing coal use, it will also re­duce emis­sions of car­bon diox­ide, the chief global warm­ing gas, Ro­hde said.

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