Air Pollution in Northern China shortens the life expectancy of over 500 million people by 5.5 years

Air pollution is shortening the lives of people in northern China by about 5.5 years compared to those living in the south of China, a disastrous legacy of a policy that provided free coal for heating in the north, an international study shows.

Environmental problems are a source of rising social discontent in China; last month Beijing promised new measures to crack down on air pollution, partly by hastening a shift to renewable energy from fossil fuels

A Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [PNAS] paper’s findings suggest that an arbitrary Chinese policy that greatly increases total suspended particulates (TSPs) air pollution is causing the 500 million residents of Northern China to lose more than 2.5 billion life years of life expectancy. The quasi-experimental empirical approach is based on China’s Huai River policy, which provided free winter heating via the provision of coal for boilers in cities north of the Huai River but denied heat to the south. Using a regression discontinuity design based on distance from the Huai River, we find that ambient concentrations of TSPs are about 184 μg/m3 [95% confidence interval (CI): 61, 307] or 55% higher in the north. Further, the results indicate that life expectancies are about 5.5 years (95% CI: 0.8, 10.2) lower in the north owing to an increased incidence of cardiorespiratory mortality. More generally, the analysis suggests that long-term exposure to an additional 100 μg/m3 of TSPs is associated with a reduction in life expectancy at birth of about 3.0 years (95% CI: 0.4, 5.6).

Europe has an impact of about 8 months reduction in life expectancy from European air pollution.

PNAS – Evidence on the impact of sustained exposure to air pollution on life expectancy from China’s Huai River policy

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