Rampant Air Pollution in China Is Tied to 1.2 Million Early Deaths

By Wong, Edward | International Herald Tribune, April 2, 2013 | Go to article overview

Rampant Air Pollution in China Is Tied to 1.2 Million Early Deaths


Wong, Edward, International Herald Tribune


A wide-ranging study finds that China accounted for nearly 40 percent of the total number of premature deaths worldwide due to air pollution.

Outdoor air pollution contributed to 1.2 million premature deaths in China in 2010, according to a new summary of data from a scientific study on leading causes of death worldwide. The estimated number is the largest to date of premature deaths in China in a single year because of air pollution.

The deaths equal a loss in 2010 of 25 million healthy years of life, the researchers said. The data on which the analysis is based was first presented in the 2010 Global Burden of Disease, an ambitious study published in December in The Lancet, the British medical journal. The authors of the study have decided to break out numbers for specific countries and present the findings at international conferences. The China statistics were presented on Sunday at a forum in Beijing.

"We have been rolling out the India- and China-specific numbers as they speak more directly to national leaders than regional numbers," said Robert O'Keefe, vice president of the Health Effects Institute, a research organization that is helping to present the study. The organization is partly financed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the global motor vehicle industry.

The study found that outdoor air pollution contributed to 3.2 million premature deaths worldwide, meaning that China accounted for nearly 40 percent of the total. In China, there has been a 33 percent increase over the past two decades in the burden of disease that can be attributed to ambient air pollution, which is responsible for higher levels of stroke and heart disease in China's aging population, the researchers said.

What the researchers called "ambient particulate matter pollution" was the fourth leading risk factor for deaths in China in 2010, behind dietary risks, high blood pressure and tobacco smoking. Air pollution ranked seventh on the worldwide list of leading risks factors.

By comparison, the same study found that India, which also has densely populated cities grappling with similar levels of pollution, had 620,000 premature deaths in 2010 due to air pollution. That was deemed to be the sixth most common killer in South Asia.

The study was led by an institute at the University of Washington and several partner universities and institutions, including the World Health Organization.

Calculations of premature deaths due to outdoor air pollution are politically sensitive in the eyes of some Chinese officials.

According to news reports, Chinese officials cut out sections of a 2007 report that discussed premature deaths; the report's authors had concluded that 350,000 to 400,000 people die prematurely in China each year because of outdoor air pollution. The study, "Cost of Pollution in China," was done by the World Bank in cooperation with the Chinese State Environmental Protection Administration, which was the precursor to the Ministry of Environmental Protection. …

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