Coal burning caused 366,000 premature deaths in China in 2013, mainly due to the fine particulates (PM2.5) it produces, according to a new study. When other sources of PM2.5 are included, such as industrial and household combustion, this number of air pollution-related deaths from cardiovascular and lung diseases rose to 916,000. But as China takes action to get control air pollution, research suggests that deaths related to air pollution in India may exceed these numbers.
China has initiated a number of measures to control pollution in recent years and these are starting to show benefits, says the study, led by Tsinghua University and the Boston-based Health Effects Institute (HEI). ‘These analyses highlight the need for even more aggressive strategies to reduce emissions from coal combustion along with reductions in emissions from other sectors — strategies that are beginning to be implemented in the Thirteenth Five-Year Plan,’ said Hao Jiming of Tsinghua University.
The study predicts that air pollution in China will decline substantially by 2030, and 275,000 premature deaths will be avoided. However, as the Chinese population grows and people live longer, inevitably the number of air pollution-related deaths will rise. ‘Air pollution health burdens will continue to be a challenge, but the potential for future health benefits from further control is enormous,’ said Robert O’Keefe, HEI vice president.
HEI researchers reported earlier in 2016 that exposure to PM2.5 air pollution contributes to about 3.2m premature deaths every year across the world, with two-thirds of those deaths occurring in China, India, and other developing countries of Asia. It is also a significant problem in Eastern Europe where coal use is high and unlikely to decrease in the near future.
Although data for India are not due until 2017, the HEI researchers say that the increase in people dying in India from air pollution will outpace the rate of such deaths in China.
While China aims to cut coal output by about 19% of its current annual output until 2020, and reduce emission of major pollutants in the power sector by 60%, India has been slow to bring in environmental limits and is ramping up coal production to provide electricity to its growing population.
In 2012, the EU reported 403,000 premature deaths linked to fine particulate air pollution.