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Pollution Cutbacks Could Lower Health Risks In Beijing

February 8, 2011

A study suggested Tuesday that if China continued with pollution cutbacks implemented during the 2008 Olympic Games, Beijing residents could see their lifetime lung cancer risk cut in half.

The study said that could translate to 10,000 fewer cases of lung cancer.

The study, which was published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives by researchers from Peking University in Beijing and Oregon State University, focused on pollutants called PAHs that arise from coal-burning, wood stoves and cars.

The research was among the first to examine how pollution control could impact the health of people in China.  The country emits the most PAHs of any country in the world, followed by India and the U.S.

“PAH pollution was definitely reduced by the actions China took during the 2008 Olympics, such as restricting vehicle use, decreasing coal combustion and closing some pollution-emitting factories,” said Staci Simonich, an associate professor of chemistry and environmental toxicology at Oregon State University.

“That’s a positive step, and it shows that if such steps were continued it could lead to a significant reduction in cancer risk from these types of pollutants.”

However, there are over 3.6 million vehicles in Beijing and the number is rising 13 percent each year.

“Controlling vehicle emissions is key to reducing the inhalation cancer risks due to PAH exposure in Chinese megacities,” the study said.

The analysis said that Beijing would see about 21,200 lifetime cases of lung cancer at current levels of PAH pollution.

However, if pollution controls instituted during the Olympics were maintained, that number would jump 11,400.

Some estimates say that 300,000 people die annually in China from heart disease and lung cancer associated with air pollution.

“This is definitely a health concern and one that deserves attention in China by both the government and public,” said study co-author Yuling Jia, a postdoctoral research associate at Oregon State University.

According to the Chinese government, Beijing has invested $15 billion in improving air quality since 1998.

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