Air pollution kills 4,000 every day in China, study finds

US research paper estimates that air pollution is responsible for as much as 17% of all deaths in China

Air pollution kills an average of 4,000 people every day in China — the equivalent of 17% of all fatalities in the country — according to a US study paper published today (August 14).

China's capital, Beijing, has hit repeatedly hit the headlines in recent years due to high levels of air pollution in the city

China’s capital, Beijing, has hit repeatedly hit the headlines in recent years due to high levels of air pollution in the city

Researchers found that 1.6 million people are dying from air pollution every year in China, and the study authors also claim they have also been able to identify the sources of this pollution.

Independent environmental science NGO Berkeley Earth analysed hourly measurements of 1,500 ground monitoring stations in China covering a four month period, estimating that 38% of China’s population breathes air which is ‘unhealthy’ by US standards.

Published in the journal PLOS ONE, the research paper also maps the direct sources of air pollution throughout China using these ground-level measurements.

It found that sources of particulate matter PM2.5 in China match those of sulphur dioxide, which authors of the study say implies that most of the country’s pollution comes from coal.

However, as the sources of pollution are not local, reducing pollution for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing ‘may prove difficult’, the researchers said.

Co-author of the paper, Robert Rohde, said: “Beijing is only a moderate source PM2.5; it receives much of its pollution from distant industrial areas, particularly Shijiazhuang, 200 miles to the southwest.”

Map showing PM2.5 concentrations in China (image: Berkeley Earth)

Berkeley Earth map showing PM2.5 concentrations in China (click to enlarge)

Berkeley Earth

The paper is Berkely Earth’s first to be accepted for journal publication and forms part of its project, launched in April 2014, to analyse the world’s air pollution data. Although today’s paper covers only four months of data, the NGO now has data for 16 months covering April 2014 to August 2015.

Another co-author of the paper Richard Muller — scientific director of Berkeley Earth — commented: “Air pollution is the greatest environmental disaster in the world today.

“When I was last in Beijing, pollution was at the hazardous level; every hour of exposure reduced my life expectancy by 20 minutes. It’s as if every man, women, and child smoked 1.5 cigarettes each hour.”

Elizabeth Muller, executive director of Berkeley Earth, said: “It’s troubling that air pollution is killing so many and yet isn’t on the radar for major environmental organizations in the US or Europe.”

She added that solutions include greater use of scrubbers, increased energy efficiency, and switching from coal to natural gas, nuclear power, and renewables.

She said: “Many of the same solutions that mitigate air pollution will simultaneously reduce China’s contribution to global warming. We can save lives today and tomorrow.”

Founded in 2010, Berkeley Earth said it now hopes to expand geographic coverage to include more of Asia, the US, and Europe, and to study how sources of air pollution change with time. The NGO has previously received support from the US Department of Energy.

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Berkeley Earth


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8 years ago

We could all show a litle more respect for clean air, everywhere, and especially with the wood burning.

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