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China: Study on premature deaths reveals health impact of PM2.5

Published by MAC on 2012-12-27
Source: Statement, China Daily

Study on premature deaths reveals health impact of PM2.5 in China

Greenpeace calls for capping regional coal consumption

Greenpeace press release

18 December 2012

Beijing - An estimated 8,572 premature deaths occurred in four major Chinese cities in 2012, due to high levels of PM2.5 pollution, a joint study by Greenpeace East Asia and Peking University's School of Public Health has concluded. The report also estimates PM2.5 pollution caused the cities of Shanghai, Guangzhou, Xi'an and Beijing to suffer a combined total of US$1.08 billion in economic losses over the past year. Greenpeace is calling for an urgent policy adjustment, including capping regional coal consumption, De-NOx retrofiting for existing coal-fired power plants, and shutting down inefficient coal-fired industrial boilers.

The report "PM2.5: Measuring the human health and economic impacts on China's largest cities" states that if these cities can effectively lower their PM2.5 levels to meet the World Health Organization's Air Quality Guidelines (WHO AQG), such deaths would be reduced by at least 81%, and the economic losses for these four cities could be reduced by $US868 million. Unfortunately no cities currently have a timeline to meet WHO AQG.

"PM2.5 is putting public health at high risk every day, but worse still, if we follow the current official plans we would need to wait 20 years to get to the national standard, which is still risky compared to the WHO guidelines," said Greenpeace campaigner Zhou Rong. "Who can afford the wait?" Greenpeace is calling for a concrete and ambitious timetable to tackle PM2.5 pollution, thus improving the air quality to reach the health standard set out by WHO AQG.

For the report, researchers from Greenpeace and Peking University's School of Public Health studied the impact of PM2.5 in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Xi'an, which represented major urban centres in China's north, east, south and west respectively.

"Besides saving a lot of human lives, combating PM2.5 can also significantly reduce the national cost on health care," said Zhou Rong. Taking Beijing as an example, the report found the Chinese capital experienced a loss of US$328 million in 2012 because of PM2.5 pollution. But had it reached WHO AQG, US$283 million could have been saved. (For details please refer to the media briefing paper section three).

Recent statistics from China's Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) show cities in China's Yangtze River Delta, Pearl River Delta, and Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region suffered over 100 hazy days a year with PM2.5 concentration two to four times above World Health Organization guidelines. The effects of PM2.5-related air pollution extend beyond hazy days, also leading to systematic damage to human health.

PM2.5 is small in particle size but as pollution can reach a large surface area. It is more prone to carrying a variety of toxic heavy metals, acid oxides, organic pollutants and other chemicals, as well as microorganisms such as bacteria and viruses in the air. When inhaled, it can enter a person's blood stream. Exposure to PM2.5 can contribute to cardiovascular, cerebrovascular and respiratory diseases, as well as greater cancer risks, all leading to a significantly higher mortality rate.

Studies have shown PM2.5 is most prevalant in the combustion of coal. Since the majority of China's energy comes from coal plants, Greenpeace is urging regional governments to cap coal consumption.

Greenpeace is also calling on the local governments in key regions to go beyond requirements raised by recent MEP plans, and to take ambitious steps to set up specific air quality improvement plans, including detailed PM2.5 pollution reduction timelines.

Downloading the English Briefing -

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PM2.5 kills thousands, researchers say

By Wu Wencong

China Daily

19 December 2012

An estimated 8,572 premature deaths occurred in four major Chinese cities this year due to high levels of PM2.5, a study has found.

The report also said severe air pollution in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Xi'an and Beijing has led to a total economic loss of 6.8 billion yuan ($1.09 billion).

The study released on Tuesday by Peking University's School of Public Health and Greenpeace looked at the health and economic impact of PM2.5, particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter.

PM2.5 kills thousands, researchers say

Modern toxicology research has shown that exposure to PM2.5 can lead to significantly increased death rates due to cardiovascular, cerebrovascular and respiratory diseases, as well as increased cancer risk.

The study, the first of its kind, was based on available data and took into account varying conditions in the four cities, such as temperature and humidity.

In its conclusion, the report states that if the cities can effectively lower PM2.5 levels to meet the World Health Organization's Air Quality Guidelines - 10 micrograms per cubic meter - such deaths would be reduced by more than 80 percent.

Of the four cities, Shanghai had the highest amount of deaths, although its PM2.5 concentration is not the highest, the study found.

"The reason can be very complicated, but this phenomenon corresponds with research in other countries," said Pan Xiaochuan, a professor at the School of Public Health and lead author of the report.

"There are three main factors. First, Shanghai is the most populous city. Second, people from the south and the north have different sensitivities to pollution. Third, PM2.5 in different places has different components whose effects vary."

The methodology adopted by the study is a widely applied standardized method in epidemiological studies of air pollution, authors said.

"A mathematical model was developed based on PM2.5 laboratory monitoring values over the past three to four years in the four cities, as well as statistics from centers for disease control and prevention of deaths and their causes over the same period," said Li Guoxing, a lecturer at the School of Public Health and a co-author.

"From this, a PM2.5 exposure relative risk coefficient was calculated. The total of deaths related to PM2.5 pollution in 2010 was also estimated based on population sizes and PM10 concentration statistics published in the National Statistical Yearbook 2010."

He said the study also calculates mortalities caused by PM2.5 this year, together with figures based on potential improvement scenarios.

However, researchers conceded that the study has many limitations.

"The data we used, though they're the best we can get, are still limited," Pan said. He said the data mainly came from independent research institutions in the four cities, not official sources, which may affect the results.

The central government recently started to ask major cities to start releasing readings of PM2.5 levels to the public.

"The result is an estimation, based on a probabilistic method in statistics, with a possibility of uncertainty," Pan said.

Li said that the study only takes into consideration a relatively short-term effect of PM2.5 pollution, without measuring the possible health effects of other major pollutants in the air, such as black carbon and ozone, which may result in an underestimation of the health risks.

On Dec 12, a policy study executive report was released to the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development, an organization chaired by Vice-Premier Li Keqiang. The report also mentioned the relationship between premature deaths and PM2.5.

It cited an estimate by the WHO that 470,000 Chinese died prematurely in 2008 due to air pollution.

"A World Bank study showed China's deaths and diseases caused by air pollution in 2003 brought an economic loss of 160 billion yuan, equivalent to 1.16 percent of GDP that year," read the Regional Air Quality Integrated Control System Research report, written by a team led by Hao Jiming, an academic at the Chinese Academy of Engineering and a professor at Tsinghua University's School of Environment.

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