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07/10/2013

Why some Chinese have a shorter life span than others

China

A view of the city skyline in the haze is seen in Beijing's central business district. Air pollution is shortening the lives of people in northern China by about 5.5 years compared to the south. (Photo by Reuters)

A new report says air pollution in northern parts of China has shaved more than five years off the lifespan of people who live there, compared to those who live in the south of China.

Published in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Science on July 8, the study says China’s Huai River policy is responsible for this shocking decrease in life expectancy.

Under the policy, the government provided coal free of charge to all those living north of Huai River, which divides China into two. As residents of northern China, the colder part of the country, huddled around fuel burners inside their homes, the air outside grew black during the winter months between 1950 and 1980.

Breathing that air, filled with coal ash from the boilers, led to an increased incidence of death from heart and lung problems and robbed those people of an average of 5.5 years of their lives compared to their southern friends.

Poor air quality is “causing 500 million residents of northern China to lose more than 2.5 billion life years of life expectancy,” the researchers wrote.

The study called it “extraordinary pollution” levels that have had dramatic impact on the environment and on human health, which still persists. 

Raveena Aulakh is the Toronto Star's environment reporter. She is intrigued by climate change and its impact, now and long-term, and wildlife. Follow her on Twitter @raveenaaulakh

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