Image via The Guardian.

The effects of urban pollution in China are started to get out of hand, and by now, it’s pretty safe to say that they are dealing with a major pollution crisis – the smog in Beijing particularly is so severe you can easily see it from outer space. Now, a new study has concluded that the smog alone is so damaging that it reduces the average life expectancy in Beijing by about 15 years.

In most Chinese cities, concentrations of PM2.5 (particulate matter with aerodynamic diameter over 2.5 micrometers) are still far above the level recommended by the World Health Organization’s guidelines on air quality. For example, in Beijing, the level is over 4 times that recommended.

Beijing is surrounded by a heavily industrialized area which relies mostly on coal, which is a very dangerous pollutant. Aside for the ever increasing population and the higher density of cars, the general geography and wind patterns don’t help either, and you end up with a complex ambient pollutant mixture with the potential for combined toxic effects from many constituents.

Yuming Guo and his team obtained meteorological data on daily mean temperature, relative humidity, and air pressure from the China meteorological system’s data sharing service and examined the correlation between the so-called years of life lost (YLL).

Years of life lost is more informative for quantifying premature deaths than mortality risk, which weighs all deaths equally. Increased YLL are associated with increased air pollution.

For each monitoring site, they calculated 24 h mean concentrations from non-missing data, and correlated them with estimated YLL, and found that air pollution, and most noticeably smog causes a reduction of life expectancy by a staggering 15 years. People aged up to 65 years were more affected by air pollutants than those older than 65 years in terms of years of life lost, probably because their mortality rate was higher. The study suggests drastic needs for a reduction in the pollution emissions, and it highlights just how much damage air pollution does in Beijing.

Read the full study here.

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