And premature deaths are “just a tiny fraction” of the adverse health impacts of tiny airborne particles, less than 2.5 microns in diameter, known as fine particle matter 2.5 (PM2.5).
The startling findings were included in a report by Greenpeace East Asia and Peking University’s school of public health which, for the first time, focused on PM2.5 health hazards in urban areas.
Environmentalists have hailed the study, released yesterday, as ground-breaking, with data linking poor air quality to deadly diseases.
Noting that the World Bank once put the number of premature deaths on the mainland as a result of air pollution at more than 200,000, Professor Pan Xiaochuan, of Peking University, said the study focused on a single pollutant and had not taken into account the long-term health impact of PM2.5, which could be far more dangerous.
The study’s estimation of combined economic losses caused by premature deaths, put at 6.8 billion yuan (HK$8.34 billion), was also likely to be far lower than the real figure owing to limited access to official statistics, he added.
Fine particles have long been known to pose greater health risks than more than a dozen other air pollutants. They damage lung tissue and the cardiovascular system, cause lung cancer and other deadly diseases, and lead to a higher mortality rate.
Based on official mortality figures in 2010 and limited PM2.5 monitoring data in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Xian, mostly from environment-related research institutes, the study showed a more than 10 per cent rise in premature deaths caused by PM2.5 pollution in the four cities over the past two years.