People living in northern China may have diminished lifespans because of air pollution. A new study indicates that this type of pollution can cut three years off of Chinese people lifespans. Approximately 4.5 billion people in the world are exposed to extreme levels of air pollution. The new study which was published on September 11 in the ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences’ indicates that people living in northern China may live 3.1 years less compared to people in the south.
This dramatic change is triggered by air pollution concentrations which are 46% higher. The new findings indicate that every ten micrograms of particulate matter pollution per cubic meter reduce life expectancy by 0.6 years. The increase in the number of deaths is due to an increase in the number of cardiorespiratory diseases and deaths.
These indicate that air pollution represents the cause of decreased life expectancies to the north of China. Michael Greenstone is the co-author of the study and the director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago. He explains that the results following the study indicate that long-term exposure to air pollution can cause serious reduction when it comes to life expectancy.
Air pollution affects billions of lives at a global level
Particulates air pollution represents the biggest environmental risk, threatening human health. Air pollution jeopardizes life expectancy of individuals in many parts of the world, having similar effects on people. Furthermore, air pollution seems to affect people’s respiratory system as bad as the respiratory system of men, women, and children would damage theirs by smoking for several decades.
Many policies indicate that air pollution is a problem that can be solved. However, it requires even better, robust policy and enforcement. The new study looks at China’s Huai River policy. This policy offered free coal to fuel boilers for winter heating to help people living in the north of the river. Nevertheless, this policy did not protect citizens living in the south of the river.
Officials implemented the partial provision of heating because China did not have sufficient resources to offer free coal for everyone. Therefore, since they severely restricted migration, people who were exposed to air pollution could not migrate to less polluted areas. The subtle change in the policy at the edge of the river and the restrictions on migration paved the way for a powerful natural experiment.
People in China indicate diminished lifespan because of air pollution
This terrible experiment has horrific consequences, affecting many people’s lives. However, it provides the opportunity to isolate the effect of sustained exposure to air pollution from other factors which impair human health.
Maigeng Zhou is the co-author of the new study and the deputy director of the National Center for Chronic and Noncommunicable Disease Control and Prevention in the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. He indicates that the results of the study will help them develop the case for policies that will improve the lives of Chinese people. Furthermore, many countries around the world need to develop such policies that can protect their people.
The new finding offers solutions to many challenges which have plagued previous research. Previous studies rely on research designs which may not isolate the causal consequences of air pollution. Furthermore, they are also unlikely to establish the pollution exposure for pre-determined periods of time. These research designs cannot analyze settings with lower pollution concentrations. Prior studies fail to shed light on the effect of sustained exposure. Previous research designs have measured effects on mortality rates, but they still leave the loss of life expectancy unanswered.
Air pollution threatens people’s lives
Maoyong Fan is the co-author of the research and an associate professor at Ball State University. He indicates that the unique design of the study offers solutions to challenges which seem to be difficult to solve. Furthermore, the research design of the Huai River policy can help to explore several other questions left unanswered.
This study follows on the work of a previous one, developed by some of the same researchers. They have also used the Huai River design. Even if they utilized information from two different time periods, both studies unveiled the same results. There is a strong connection between life expectancy and pollution. Nevertheless, the new research’s data covers a population which is eight times greater than the one in the prior study.
This study also offers direct evidence analyzing smaller pollution particles which are often the subject of environmental regulations. Avraham Ebenstein is a lecturer in the Department of Environmental Economics and Management at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He participated in both studies. The researcher indicates that the new study helps them evaluate the validity of the previous findings.
Air pollution causes several cardiorespiratory deaths
However, both studies brought up similar results. The researchers increased specialists’ confidence that they revealed the causal correlation between life expectancy and air pollution. These studies determined China to boost their efforts to fight against air pollution. Therefore, China decided to change the primary source of heating. They implemented the use of gas-fueled units or electric ones instead of using coal-fueled boilers.
One of the main consequences consists in lower particulate air pollution in some of the most polluted cities in China, like Beijing. The level of air pollution has dropped a bit, improving the air quality.
Guuojun He is the co-author the new study and an assistant professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. He argues that the changes will bring important health benefits for Chinese citizens in the long run. He also claims that if they were to comply to their Class I standards for PM10, they would save over 3.7 billion life-years.
We all know that besides soil pollution and water pollution, air pollution is also a dangerous phenomenon which can put at risk billions of lives. Many areas around the world where several industries thrive are affected by air pollution. The most important thing is to fight together to reduce it to prevent it from affecting human health.
Image Source: Time Magazine