A Quarter of a Million Lives Lost to China’s Coal Emissions, Says Study

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Written By: Jim Greenberg

China’s coal plant emissions in 2011 caused a quarter of a million premature deaths while damaging the health of hundreds of thousands of Chinese Children, says a new study.

2048778123China is the world’s largest consumer of coal, burning over 50% of the worldwide total each year. The study, commissioned by Greenpeace, comes at a time when areas in eastern and northern China are experiencing dangerous levels of air pollution.

Researchers traced airborne emissions from burning coal and found over 250,000 premature deaths, 2 million doctor visits, and 340,000 hospital admissions associated with China’s coal emissions in 2011. Analysis also revealed that the country’s air pollution is responsible for 36,000 babies with low birth weights and 320,000 children and 61,000 adults with asthma.

According to a breakdown of the data, coal power plants posed the greatest health risk to Henan province, with an estimated 31,400 premature deaths, and the Shandong province, with 29,800 premature deaths. Inner Mongolia, Shanxi province, and Jiangsu province also suffered from high premature death rates.

Using modelling techniques that correlate air pollution with the risk of illness and death, researchers calculate that 257,000 deaths could have been avoided if no air pollution had occurred. “This study provides an unprecedentedly detailed picture of the health fallout from China’s coal burning”, says Dr Andrew Gray, one of the researchers of the study.

The findings of Dr. Gray’s research group are largely supportive of other related scientific studies. One example is the World Health Organization’s recent Global Burden of Disease Report that estimated 1.2 million premature deaths linked to China’s air pollution in 2010. Furthermore, research published in July in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, concluded that China’s air pollution caused its citizens the loss of more than 2.5 billion years of life expectancy -a reduction of 5.5 years for the average citizen’s life expectancy.

According to the Greenpeace study, although the country’s increase in coal consumption has slowed, China has proposed adding 570 new coal-fired plants, which, when complete, would be likely to cause an additional 32,000 premature deaths a year.

China’s air pollution is also having an effect on its economy. According a report from the Chinese government, air pollution cost the country $230 billion in 2010, or 3.5% of China’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

In an effort to curb the country’s emissions, Liaoning Province, in Northern China, has fined eight cities a total of 54 million yuan ($9 million) for generating dangerous levels of air pollution. The country has also extended its pilot carbon-trading plans from the southeast city of Shenzhen to Beijing and Shanghai.