The pea-soup-like air pollution in China’s cities has received a lot of attention over the past year, but its actual human toll is just now coming to light, and it’s much worse than thought. Some 1.2 million premature deaths in the country can be attributed to the outdoor air quality in 2010, a loss of some 25 million healthy years, according to the Global Burden of Disease Study (GBD), published by The Lancet in December. The New York Times reports that "ambient particulate matter pollution" was the number four cause of death in the country, behind dietary risks, high blood pressure, and smoking.
"The energy consumption in China is rising dramatically."
Speaking to NPR, Robert O’Keefe of the Health Effects Institute in Boston explained that the huge rise in air pollution is a direct result of the fast pace of industrialization. "Cars are being added and trucks are being added to the streets in major cities at record numbers. Power plants burn significant amounts of very low-grade coal, and the energy consumption in China is rising dramatically," he explained.
But while the effects of rapid industrialization might be most keenly felt in China, its citizens aren’t the only ones to be feeling the effects of air pollution. According to the GBD, the number was around 3.2 million worldwide in 2010, which would make China’s figure roughly 40 percent of the total. Things are also bad in India, which suffered 620,000 premature deaths as a result of the outdoor air quality.