Study links Chinese air pollution to respiratory, cardiovascular deaths

As air pollution in China steadily increases, so do the number of deaths related to cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, according to a new study from health officials in the region.

The findings, published in the American Thoracic Society’s American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, show the amount of air pollution is growing in 272 Chinese cities and that the annual exposure to air pollution in them is 56 micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m3).

"Fine particulate [PM2.5] air pollution is one of the key public health concerns in developing countries including China, but the epidemiological evidence about its health effects is scarce," said Maigeng Zhou, PhD, the lead author on the study and the deputy director of the National Center for Chronic and Non-communicable Disease Control and Prevention at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. "A new monitoring network allowed us to conduct a nationwide study to evaluate short-term associations between PM2.5 and daily cause-specific mortality in China."

Each 10 μg/m3 increase in air pollution was associated with a 0.22 percent increase in death from non-accident related causes, a 0.29 percent increase in respiratory mortality and a 0.38 percent increase in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) mortality.

The chance of death was also significantly higher among people aged 75 and older, and among less educated populations who have limited access to healthcare.

"Our findings may be helpful to formulate public health policies and ambient air quality standards in developing countries to reduce the disease burden associated with PM2.5 air pollution," said Haidong Kan, MD, an author on the study and a professor of public health at Fudan University in China. "Further massive investigations, especially looking at the long-term effect studies, are needed to confirm our results and to identify the most toxic components of PM2.5 in China."