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1.2 Million People Die Prematurely Each Year Because of China's Air Pollution

Update Date: Apr 03, 2013 03:32 PM EDT
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In recent months, the air pollution problem in China has received considerable attention from media outlets abroad. The smog means that neighbors cannot see the building across the street, parents do not let their children play outside and pedestrians wear masks in the street. But the air pollution has an even darker side than that as well; a recent report published in The Lancet has found that air pollution is responsible for 1.2 million premature deaths each year in the Middle Kingdom. Put another way, air pollution costs the most populous country in the world 25 million healthy years of life - every year.

According to NPR, the air pollution has been the cost of recent economic growth. "Cars are being added and trucks are being added to the streets in major cities at record numbers. Power plants burn significant amounts of very low-grade coal, and the energy consumption in China is rising dramatically," Robert O'Keefe, from the Health Effects Institute in Boston, said to the news outlet. He presented the findings of the study at a conference in Beijing this week.

According to the New York Times, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, headquartered in Paris, announced that air pollution was on track to become the largest environmental health concern by 2050. By that year, 3.6 million people, chiefly in China and in India, could die prematurely every year from air pollution. That would place the problem as a bigger source of health concerns than inadequate sanitation and unclean water.

For years, the calculations of premature deaths from air pollution were politically threatening in China. In 2007, officials cut out pieces of a report entitled "Cost of Pollution in China". For years, Chinese officials have collected information about the air quality but have refused to release it.

But it seems that the tide is shifting. Because the United States Embassy in Beijing released hourly numbers on the subject on its Twitter @Beijing Air, officials in China came under pressure to do the same. A total of 74 cities are required to provide data on particulate matter less than 2.5 millimeters in diameter; the smallest particles embed most deeply in the lungs.

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