Air pollution in China is nothing new; in late 2015, the country was even forced to issue a “red alert” for the high levels of pollution. You know the air quality is bad when you have to close schools and place a travel ban for half the cars in a city. An assessment of Beijing’s daily air quality index even showed that the air was “unhealthy” to breathe 49 percent of days, between the years 2008 and 2015. In those seven years, Beijing’s air was only rated as “good” for a dismal 2 percent of the time.
Now, new research shows that the air in China is so bad that it is actually contributing to cardiovascular and respiratory disease-related deaths. The air is making people sick and killing them.
In what is described by Science Daily as the “largest epidemiological study conducted in the developing world,” scientists have concluded that as citizens are increasingly exposed to small-sized particulate in the air across 272 of China’s cities, the incidence of cardiovascular and respiratory disease-related mortality increases as well.
The study was recently published online by the American Thoracic Society’s American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, prior to the printed release.
Shocking findings reveal immense pollution in China
The study’s senior author Maigeng Zhou, PhD, is also the Deputy Director of the National Center for Chronic and Non-communicable Disease Control and Prevention at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Zhou explains, “Fine particulate [PM2.5] air pollution is one of the key public health concerns in developing countries including China, but the epidemiological evidence about its health effects is scarce.” Zhou says that a new monitoring network has allowed them to assess and evaluate short-term associations between PM2.5 and cause-specific deaths across China.
The research team discovered that the national average of PM2.5 exposure in China was a devastating 56 micrograms per cubic liter (μg/m3) — more than five times higher than the World Health Organization’s air quality guidelines of 10 μg/m3 , annually.
Their findings also revealed that for every 10 μg/m3 increase in PM2.5, there was a 0.22 percent increase in all non-accident related death. The same increase in PM2.5 exposure was also associated with 0.29 percent increase in all respiratory death, and a 0.38 percent increase in mortality specifically from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which is also known as COPD.
The team also found that cities with higher average temperatures exhibited a stronger association between PM2.5 and mortality. The researchers believe that this may be because people living in warmer climates may spend more time outside and open their windows at home more often.
Study co-author Haidong Kan, MD, a Professor of Public Health at Fudan University in China, believes that their findings may be helpful for forming new public health policies and ambient air quality standards in developing countries, and will hopefully help reduce PM2.5-related disease occurrence.
“Further massive investigations, especially looking at the long-term effect studies, are needed to confirm our results and to identify the most toxic components of PM2.5 in China,” Kan added.
Air pollution deaths in China may keep rising
The United States-based Health Effects Institute (HEI) found that in 2015, there were some 4.2 million deaths attributable to air pollution across 195 different countries. Of those, half of the deaths occurred in China and India alone. China individually represented roughly 25 percent of global air pollution-related deaths in 2015, with 1.1 million instances of pollution-related mortality.
In 2016, the Paris-based International Energy Agency released a report that estimated China’s air pollution death toll will continue to increase. The report states that Chinese pollution will extend far into the future, and they expect that mortality attributable to air pollution in China will increase along with it, even in spite of the countries efforts to quell their environmental contamination.
They expect that the air pollution-related death rate in China will reach 2.5 million deaths per year, by the year 2040.
It’s clear that China needs to take a more stringent approach to their environmental clean-up efforts if they want to make a difference. Countless scientific studies have shown that air pollution in China (and worldwide) is a growing problem that has substantial, negative health effects; something needs to be done, before it’s too late.