Study: Air Pollution Implicated In 1.6 Million Deaths A Year In China

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New research from Berkeley Earth has found that air pollution in China is directly implicated in the deaths of roughly 1.6 million people a year. In other words, roughly 17% of annual deaths in China are related to the country’s air pollution problems.

To be more exact here, the findings are the result of an analysis of hourly air pollution data (PM2.5, PM10, SO2, NO2, O3, & CO) gathered at over 1,500 different locations in the country; and the actual results are for 0.7 to 2.2 million annual deaths at a 95% confidence rate.


Interestingly, this work shows that deaths caused by air pollution are a fair bit higher than previously estimated — a prominent earlier study had estimated 1.2 million annual deaths related to the issue.

The results are based on 4 months of gathered information which had Kriging interpolation applied to it. As was previously thought, it appears that, while air pollution is concentrated around the eastern portions of the country, the northern and central portions are home to notable levels as well. The pollution is also, interestingly, not limited to urban areas, nor to basins where the air pollution can collect easily. The northeastern corridor connecting northern Beijing and Shanghai appears to be the most polluted portion of the country (with regard to air pollution).

Also worth noting here, is that the research found that roughly 92% of the country’s population was exposed to over 120 hours of “unhealthy” levels of air pollution during the 4 months that data was collected (by EPA standards).


The effect of PM2.5 air pollution on mortality was determined via the “integrated exposure response function approach” — which utilizes the relatives risk of death via heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, respiratory infections, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

As noted before, certain urban corridors are the hot spots:

Within the study region, 10% of the area is responsible for 34% of the PM2.5 emissions, and 5% of the area is responsible for 22% of emissions. However, small and moderate sources are also important. Approximately 37% of the study region had PM2.5 fluxes >0.5 μg/m3/hr, sufficient to exceed US EPA standards after only 3 days of stagnant air.

… Though most of China is subject to potentially harmful levels of PM2.5, some large population centers (Chongqing, Wuhan, Chengdu) emit less than half the PM2.5 of others. Among northeastern cities, Beijing has relatively low emissions except for NO2. Low SO2 fluxes may indicate cities that benefit from lower coal usage or better smokestack pollution controls. Compared to natural gas, coal produces 150 to 400 times more PM for the same energy delivered. China has plans for new coal plants in the next decade that could effectively double their coal consumption, potentially exacerbating the problem of air pollution.

The researchers involved in the work are now planning to expand their research coverage to other parts of the world.

The new findings are set to be detailed in a paper published in the journal PLoS ONE.

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James Ayre

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

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