In the News

June 25, 2019

A Chinese professor explains what air pollution does to your health

A Chinese professor, whose work has been used to develop AQLI, talks us through his research into China’s air quality.
Kate Whiting

The Huai River is fed by tributaries high in China’s Tongbai Mountains and Dabie Mountains, and meanders 660 miles across Henan and Anhui provinces before it flows into Lake Hongze in Jiangsu province.

Historically, the river provided water for farmers’ crops on either side, with livelihoods growing up around it. On each bank today, people have a similar quality of life.

But those who live north of the river have a lower life expectancy – up to three years less – than those on its southern banks. The reason? Exposure to higher levels of pollution caused by burning free coal for winter fuel.

So discovered Professor Guojun He and his colleagues when they looked at the health impact of China’s Huai River Policy, which, since the 1950s, has been giving free or subsidized coal to residents living north of the river.

The study showed particulate pollution to be 46% higher just north of the river, leading to a reduction of average life expectancy of 3.1 years.

Pollution is a global health problem. Some 4.5 billion people worldwide are exposed to concentrations of airborne particulate matter (PM), at twice the level the World Health Organization considers safe, He’s report states.

More than 3.7 billion life years could be saved in China alone, he says, if the whole country complied with its own Class 1 standards for PM 10 (particulate matter 10 micrometres or less in diameter).

Here, the assistant professor of Economics, Environment and Sustainability, and Social Science at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), whose work has been used to develop the air quality life index (AQLI), talks us through his research into China’s air quality and explains why pollution is one of the greatest environmental risks facing humanity.

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