Beijing Air Quality “Worse than SARS”

As delegates to the National People’s Congress confront the issue of pollution following Beijing’s winter “airpocolypse,” Yanzhong Huang of the Council on Foreign Relations weighs the health consequences of air pollution China. From The Diplomat:

The poor air quality, according to a leading Chinese public health expert, is worse than SARS because nobody can escape it. Research suggests that air pollution can “raise the risk of cardio-respiratory death by 2 to 3 percent for every increase of 10 micrograms per cubic meter of pollutants.” Only 1 percent of China’s 560 million urban residents breathe air considered safe by the European Union, according to a 2007 World Bank study. A report released by China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection in November 2010 showed that “about a third of 113 cities failed to meet national air standards.” The 2012 Cancer Registry Annual Report revealed that lung cancer is top among all types of cancer in terms of the number of cases and deaths in China. Indeed, the number of lung cancer-caused mortality in China has increased by 465 percent in the past three decades. In Beijing, the number of lung cancer patients has increased by 60 percent in the last ten years. The rising incidence rate of lung cancer coincides with drastic reduction in the incidence rates of stomach cancer and cervical cancer, which is thought to be a result of improvements in public health standards.

For years, public health experts considered smoking the leading risk factor of lung cancer. Yet a recent report prepared by some prominent Chinese public health experts and economists did not find any significant change in China’s overall smoking rate over the last decade. A group of scientists analyzed historical records of aerosol particles and lung cancer incidence in Guangzhou and found that a dramatic increase in the occurrence of air pollution from 1954 to 2006 was followed by a large increase in the lung cancer incidence rate despite the drop in the overall smoking rate. It was found that 750,000 Chinese die prematurely each year, primarily because of air pollution in large cities. According to more recent estimates by Greenpeace and Peking University’s School of Public Health, exposure to PM2.5 contributed to more than 8,500 premature deaths in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Xi’an in 2012 alone.

Business Insider Adam Taylor reports that a Beijing journalist asked a question about air pollution that lasted longer than 3 minutes, and “saw her almost break down in tears numerous times,” yet the appeal received no response from the delegates to the NPC.