Air pollution kills more than 4,000 people per day in China

New research led by a California-based climate research organization has found that polluted air is responsible for 1.6 million deaths per year in China, with 17 percent of that country’s fatalities each day directly linked to the “unbreathable” air inhaled by 38 percent of its citizens.

In their new study, co-authors Robert Rohde and Richard Muller of Berkeley Earth reviewed hourly air pollution data from more than 1,500 sites recently made available by the Chinese government. They analyzed airborne particulate matter and other pollutants over a four-month span and found that 38 percent of Chinese people breathe air that would not meet US standards.

Furthermore, according to the Washington Post, they found that the polluted air was responsible for killing more than 4,000 Chinese men and women each day, or approximately one-sixth of all premature deaths nationwide. In fact, 99.9 percent of eastern China has a higher annual average for small particle haze than the most polluted city in America– Madera, California.

In a statement, Muller, the scientific director at Berkeley Earth, said that air pollution was “the greatest environmental disaster in the world today. When I was last in Beijing, pollution was at a hazardous level; every hour of exposure reduced my life expectancy by 20 minutes. It’s as if every man, women, and child smoked 1.5 cigarettes each hour.”

Can China’s air be cleaned up by the 2022 Olympics?

The most harmful pollutant, according to the study authors (whose paper has been accepted for publication in the journal PLOS One), is particulate matter 2.5 microns and smaller. Also known as PM2.5, this matter includes soot, dust and smoke and can penetrate deep into a person’s lungs, leading to heart attack, lung cancer, stroke, and asthma.

“Nearly everyone in China experiences air that is worse for particulates than the worst air in the US,” Rohde told the Associated Press on Thursday. “It’s a very big number. It’s a little hard to wrap your mind around the numbers. Some of the worst in China is to the southwest of Beijing,” the nation’s capital and the city that was recently awarded the 2022 Winter Olympics.

He added that since Beijing itself isn’t the source of most of the pollution, and that it might be hard to get the air cleaned up enough before the Olympic games get underway. Most of the harmful air found in Beijing originates from “distant industrial areas, particularly Shijiazhuang,” a city found 200 miles to the southwest, the researchers explained.

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