According to a recent study by scientists from the US, China, and Australia published in the medical journal A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, there were 2.8 million deaths from lung cancer in China in 2015, compared to 158,000 in the US.
The study points out that China’s “Outdoor air pollution, considered among the worst in the world, indoor air pollution through heating and cooking using coal, and the contamination of soil and drinking water mean the Chinese population is exposed to many environmental carcinogens.”
Chinese media reported that people in Beijing spent nearly half of 2015 breathing air that did not meet China’s national standards, which are much less stringent than the standards in the US and Europe. Levels of PM2.5 – harmful microscopic particles that penetrate deep into the lungs – were more than 8 times the World Health Organization’s recommended maximum annual average exposure.
China burns 4 billion tons of coal a year, half of the world’s total. About 80% of the coal China burns is bituminous coal, also called soft coal, that, when burned, releases more pollution into the air than anthracite, or hard coal. Chinese coal-burning plants release 5 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year, plus PM2.5 particles and heavy amounts of methane and nitrous oxide. Some of this pollution not only impacts health in China, but rises into the upper atmosphere, where it is blown by the jet stream and westerly winds across the Pacific to the US and across the Atlantic to Europe.
We hope the pledges made by China and the other 195 nations attending the 2015 climate conference in Paris to reduce their use of fossil fuels will be honored. We will all breathe easier on that clear day in the future when carbon-based energy has been replaced by renewable energy.