670,000 smog-related deaths a year in China

Children with respiratory diseases receive treatment at a hospital in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province December 9, 2013. Patients with respiratory diseases have largely increased after days of smoggy weather in the city, according to local media. A coal-dependent manufacturing base has made China the world's biggest contributor to climate change, while high and rising local air-pollution levels have sparked widespread complains from the public nationwide. REUTERS/China Daily

Children with respiratory diseases receive treatment at a hospital in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province December 9, 2013. Patients with respiratory diseases have largely increased after days of smoggy weather in the city, according to local media. A coal-dependent manufacturing base has made China the world’s biggest contributor to climate change, while high and rising local air-pollution levels have sparked widespread complains from the public nationwide. REUTERS/China Daily

A new study estimates that in 2012 there were 670,000 deaths caused by smog from coal burning in China.  The study is part of the China Coal Consumption Cap Project, which began a year ago as a collaborative project between the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council, Qinghua and Beijing Universities, Chinese government research organizations, and industry groups.  In a report released yesterday, the study claims that each metric ton of coal produced in China causes an additional 260 yuan (about $43) in environmental damage and healthcare costs, meaning of course that China’s current pricing of coal (at 30-50 yuan per metric ton) fails to account for its true costs.  The chief culprit in smog-related deaths is PM 2.5 – particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrograms.  Currently, a 5 yuan ‘pollution fee’ is levied on each metric ton of coal, an absurdly low number given the true health and environmental costs of burning coal.  The study estimated that in 2012 70% of China’s population was exposed to pollution levels higher than those determined safe even by China’s own standards.  According to the South China Morning Post, “In 2012, some 157 million people in China lived in areas where the annual PM 2.5 concentration was higher than 100mcg/m3 – 10 times the World Health Organization’s recommendation.”

Li Guoxing , from Peking University’s School of Public Health, said the full impact of coal use was still underestimated as the study did not take into account medical costs associated with other pollution-induced diseases such as asthma.  “The health cost [of the study] is only based on the premature death figures due to the limitations of our research data,” said Li. “It could be way higher if we also include medical costs for other chronic illnesses.”

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One Response to 670,000 smog-related deaths a year in China

  1. Pingback: Another study on the health costs of air pollution in China | geography3822

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