Nearly half a million lives saved in China by reducing air pollution, study suggests

Between 2013 and 2017, levels of PM2.5 in China have declined significantly, with the number of deaths attributable to air pollution reduced by 0.41 million, according to a study.

The study, which was published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, says that in 2013 Bejing had PM2.5 concentrations 40 times higher than the levels recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

In 2013, PM2.5 pollution was estimated to result in 8.9 million deaths globally, with over a quarter of these occurring in China.

To address this issue, the State Council of China started the toughest-ever ‘Air Pollution Prevention and Control Plan.’ 

According to the researchers, thanks to this control plan, between 2013 and 2017 the annual average PM2.5 level decreased from 61.8 to 42 µg/m3. 

This decline in national PM2.5 concentrations has consequently resulted in the number of deaths that are attributable to air pollution to be reduced by 0.41 million. 

The researchers gathered this data by focusing on ground-based observations in 74 cities across China.

The data was obtained from continuous observations made by the national monitoring network operated by the China Environmental Monitoring Centre. 

According to the study, between 2013 and 2017 more than 200,000 small coal boilers were shut down and all small coal burners in urban areas were phased out. 200 million tonnes of outdated steel and iron production capacity and 250 million tonnes of outdated cement production capacity were also eliminated between 2013 and 2017.

The substitution of coal with natural gas and electricity has affected 6 million households nationwide and from 2013 to 2017 more than 20 million gas and diesel vehicles were eliminated from the roads. 

However, the researchers have concluded that despite these significant improvements to air pollution and industry, the problem is not solved, levels of air pollution in many Chinese cities remains severe with 64% cities still failing to meet the national standard for annual PM2.5 emissions. 

In related news, 44% of air pollution-related deaths in China are attributable to household emissions from cooking or heating, according to a study.

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