China’s Toxic Air Could Kill a Population the Size of Orlando

The country’s pollution could contribute to 257,000 deaths over the next decade.


If nothing is done to slash the levels of toxic smog in China’s air, some 257,000 Chinese people could die over the next decade from pollution-related diseases, according to a new study released this week by Peking University and Greenpeace. That really is a lot of people; it’s roughly equal to the population of Orlando, Florida, or Buffalo, New York.

The researchers analyzed the 2013 levels of what’s known as PM2.5 pollutants—tiny airborne particles billowing from China’s coal production and industry. They projected the number of “premature deaths”—from diseases like heart disease and lung cancer—that could occur over the next 10 years if 2013’s level of pollution persists over the long term.

At the top of the list of China’s most polluted cities, toxic air in the industrial hub of Shijiazhuang could be responsible for as many as 137 premature deaths per 100,000 people. The team found the average across the country’s 31 populous provincial capitals was staggering:

The report comes amid renewed attention on China’s smog crisis. Another Greenpeace study released earlier this month revealed that 90 percent of Chinese cities that report their air pollution levels are failing to meet China’s own national standards, despite the government’s self-declared “war on pollution,” which includes measures to curtail coal use in big cities like Beijing, and to limit heavy industries.

If China met those standards, says Greenpeace in this latest report, nearly half of the premature deaths could be avoided.

The research is also notable because it was conducted jointly by China’s best known and most prestigious university, Peking University (known locally as Beida), and Greenpeace, the international environmental advocacy group that has had a long and complicated relationship with China’s authoritarian officials. The study was widely reported by state-run media, in another sign China’s censors are loosening some restrictions around environmental reporting in the country in the face of intense public pressure for transparency.

The report adds to the growing amount of literature about the deadly impacts of the country’s smog. An article that appeared in the The Lancet last year said that air pollution caused 350,000 to 500,000 premature deaths a year. An earlier Lancet study reported that air pollution caused 1.2 million premature deaths in 2010 alone.

More Mother Jones reporting on Climate Desk

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. It's our first time asking for an outpouring of support since screams of FAKE NEWS and so much of what Trump stood for made everything we do so visceral. Like most newsrooms, we face incredibly hard budget realities, and it's unnerving needing to raise big money when traffic is down.

So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate