Study of 31 mainland cities finds people more likely to die from PM2.5 than tobacco use – and it didn’t even include the worst offending places
Air pollution kills more people than smoking in many cities on the mainland, a new study by Greenpeace and Peking University has found.
Tiny smog-inducing pollutants, known as PM2.5, led to about 257,000 premature deaths across the mainland’s 31 municipalities and provincial capitals in 2013, according to the study – an average of about 90 in every 100,000 deaths.
In 12 of the 31 cities, including Shijiazhuang , Nanjing , Tianjin and Chongqing , the mortality rate due to pollution was even worse. In these cities, at least 100 out of every 100,000 deaths were blamed on PM2.5.
Both these figures were higher than the official mortality rate of smoking – recorded in 2012 as about 70 in every 100,000, according to Greenpeace.
And the true scale of the problem could be even worse, because several of China’s most polluted cities, including those in Hebei province, were not included in the survey.
Fang Yuan, a Greenpeace spokesperson, said that despite many public complaints about Beijing’s smog problems, many other cities had performed much worse than the capital.
The study found that in Beijing, 79 out of every 100,000 people died prematurely as a result of air pollution – a lower rate than 21 of the other places featured.
Professor Pan Xiaochuan, of Peking University, said the survey team had tried to collect data for more than 100 cities. But they faced problems in some places, resulting in data that was incomplete or inconsistent.
Policies to tackle air pollution were based mainly on the concentration levels of PM2.5, but city officials placed too little emphasis on the impact of air pollution on public health, Pan said.
PM2.5 are tiny particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns in size that can lodge deep inside a person’s lungs.
About 21 cities have introduced plans to tackle air pollution and have set themselves reduction targets to be met by 2017.
However, Greenpeace said that even if such targets were met, only 26,000 deaths could be avoided annually.
This showed that China needed to beef up its efforts to reduce pollution, Greenpeace said.
As yet, there are no official statistics regarding premature deaths caused by air pollution.
In 2013, the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention launched a comprehensive study on the impact of smog on public health, but its results will not be ready until later this year.
Last year, former health minister Chen Zhu and three other authors estimated in The Lancet medical journal that air pollution caused 350,000 to 500,000 premature deaths a year. But an earlier study in the same journal said air pollution was responsible for 1.2 million premature deaths in 2010 alone.