Leaders of the World Health Organization say they are concerned about the air quality and health effects on citizens amid a recent bout of heavy pollution in Beijing.
Still, they said they were unsure of the specific toll air pollution takes on any one person’s body, casting doubts on local reports tying the region’s dirty air to particular cases of illness.
Speaking at a briefing on Tuesday, the WHO’s Western Pacific regional director, Shin Young-Soo, cited reports about poor air quality causing lung cancer in recent weeks. The WHO is skeptical of the information, he said.
“We’re cautious of whether the illness is related to air pollution,” Dr. Shin said at a briefing on Tuesday, adding, “We know it has an impact on health, but we don’t know how much.”
The officials didn’t cite specific reports. The comments follow a number of article since late last year connecting specific cases of ailments like lung cancer with pollution, including one in November regarding an 8-year-old girl.
The health impact of Beijing’s gray skies have been on the minds of many over the past week. Local authorities on Tuesday maintained an orange alert –the city’s second highest pollution-warning level — and again warned people to stay indoors. Experts widely agree that small particulates known as PM2.5 carry significant short- and long-term health risks, particularly with children. Other studies find a definite link between pollution and shorter life spans.
Chinese state media have noted a rise in cancer levels in Beijing, without specifying whether the new cases stem from pollution, smoking, other sources or some combination.
Bernhard Schwartländer, the organization’s China chief, said he is concerned and has been in contact with national authorities. “There is no easy solution,” Dr. Schwartländer said, adding that solving the problem requires managing industry and the economy.
WHO leaders advised citizens to stay indoors and limit exposure to the hazardous particulates.
When asked if wearing a face mask has any proven efficacy in preventing health effects of air pollution, Dr. Schwartländer said, “Whatever you do, it’s better than nothing.”