Friday, August 14, 2015

Deadly Air

Wednesday's catastrophic explosions in the Chinese port city of Tianjin are, understandably, attracting greater attention at present, but new research suggests that day-to-day air quality is a far greater threat to human life than random events like the Tianjin disaster.

A statistical analysis by researchers at Berkeley Earth asserts that air pollution in China is responsible for somewhere between 700,000 and 2,200,000 deaths each year. The midpoint of the estimate--1,600,000 deaths per year--translates to 4,400 deaths per day.

The paper, based on detailed records of air-sampling stations in China and neighboring countries combined with World Health Organization frameworks for estimating mortality associated with the diseases most commonly linked to air pollution, is scheduled to be published in PLOS One on August 20. PLOS One is an online, open-access, peer-reviewed science journal that publishes about 30,000 papers per year.

The Berkeley Earth research suggests that much of Beijing's famed air pollution is produced 200 miles away in the industrial areas of Hebei Province. This means that local efforts to mitigate air pollution in advance of the 2022 Winter Olympics will likely be inadequate in the absence of measures addressing the pollution generated by more distant coal-fired power plants.

More on the Berkeley Earth findings, including maps and data sources, can be found here. The study to be published in PLOS One is available here (PDF).