Pollution cutting life expectancy in north China by more than five years

A new study has linked heavy air pollution from burning coal burning to shorter lives in northern China

A new study has linked heavy air pollution from burning coal burning to shorter lives in northern China

 

A new study has linked heavy air pollution from burning coal burning to shorter lives in northern China, with researchers estimating that the half-billion people alive there in the 1990s will live an average of 5.5 years less than their southern counterparts because they breathed dirtier air.

For decades, a now-discontinued government policy provided free coal to heat homes and offices in the colder north.

The resulting air pollution has caused higher rates of lung cancer, heart attacks and strokes in the north of the country, the study has shown.


Premature deaths
Earlier research had shown that outdoor air pollution contributed to 1.2 million premature deaths in China in 2010.

The current study was published yesterday by researchers from China, Israel and the US in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers found significant differences in both air-particle pollution and life expectancy in the two regions, and said the results could be used to extrapolate the effects of such pollution on lifespans elsewhere in the world.

Li Hongbin, a professor from Tsinghua University and one of the researchers involved with the study, told China Radio International that if the air contained 100 micrograms of particle pollutants, the average life expectancy of those breathing in such air would be cut by three years.

Based on this calculation, if the density of particle pollutants in the air in China’s north was 200 micrograms higher than in southern China, it was estimated that five years would be cut from one’s life expectancy, Li said.

Cause of unrest
Environmental issues are now as much a source of social unrest in the country as land grabs, as has been seen from recent protests in southwestern China over chemical plants. Concern over such issues is moving beyond the traditional preserve of the middle classes into wider society.

“The study shows how years of intensive industrial development continues to provide a challenging legacy to China’s current political leaders, who have to manage rising public concerns about environmental degradation,” said Tom Rafferty, China analyst for the Economist Intelligence Unit.

The Chinese government has responded to the environmental crisis by announcing ambitious goals that include cutting back the emissions of the most polluting industrial sectors.

“However, the main challenge is enforcing such targets in the face of often quite fierce opposition from local governments that are protective of local industries and concerned about the economic implications of reducing industrial capacity,” said Mr Rafferty.