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Air Pollution From Coal Single Largest Health Impact In China

A recent comprehensive study has concluded that coal combustion is the single largest source of air pollution-related health impact in China, contributing to 366,000 premature deaths in China in 2013 alone.

Published mid-August, the new study was led by Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, and the Health Effects Institute: Burden of Disease Attributable to Coal-Burning and Other Air Pollution Sources in China. The study, available in both Chinese and English, is said to provide “the first comprehensive assessment at national and provincial levels of current and future burdens of disease attributable to coal-burning and other major sources of particular matter air pollution.” It is also the first report of the Global Burden of Disease — Major Air Pollution Sources (GBD MAPS), a multi-year, international collaboration of Tsinghua University, HEI, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), and the University of British Columbia.

“The GBD is the largest and most comprehensive effort to date to measure epidemiological levels and trends worldwide” said Zhou Maigeng, Deputy Director of the National Center for Chronic and Non-communicable Disease Control and Prevention of the China Center for Disease Control and lead author of the GBD 2013 Chinese analysis published in the British medical journal The Lancet in October 2015. “Based on Chinese data, we found that outdoor air pollution was the 5th leading cause of premature death in China in 2013.”

Estimates of causes of premature death from 20 top risk factors in 2013


The new study is part of the GBD MAPS Working Group, and took advantage of enhanced satellite data and China’s ever-expanding network of air pollution monitors. The study was also the first to estimate the impact of different air pollution sources by province.

“Coal-burning was the most important contributor to ambient PM2.5, causing an estimated 366,000 premature deaths in 2013,” said Professor Wang Shuxiao of Tsinghua University, a lead investigator for the study. “Industrial sources and household solid fuel combustion, from both coal and non-coal emissions, were the largest sectoral contributors to disease burden attributable to ambient PM2.5 in China, responsible for 250,000 and 177,000 premature deaths, respectively.”

The study also pursued an estimate of future health burdens into 2030, based on four air pollution control and energy efficiency scenarios. Though in each of the scenarios exposure to PM2.5 will decrease, the growth of Chinese populations and their likelihood of extended lifespans will only increase the number of deaths from cardiovascular and lung diseases. Specifically, the GBD MAPS analysis forecasts as many as 1.3 million annual deaths as attributable to air pollution.

“Air pollution health burdens will continue to be a challenge, but the potential for future health benefits from further control is enormous,” added Robert O’Keefe, Vice President of the Health Effects Institute.

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