Extreme air pollution has been found to drastically reduce the lifespan of Chinese citizens who live in the northern region of the nation, according to a new study. Of the 500 million people living in northern China, most will see an average of 5.5 years cut from their life.
This new study comes from a collaborative group of scientists from around the globe. CNN reports that the researcher group has finally published their findings, the first attempt to measure large scale health costs of pollution in China.
China’s northern areas are home to some of the world’s most polluted cities, gaining worldwide notoriety for their poor air, food, and water quality.
The study finds that north of the Huai River, air there currently has 55 percent more harmful particulates than the south, what the authors of the new study call pollution of “extraordinary” levels.
The study found this to result in higher instances of heart and lung disease since the 1980s.
Why is there such a substantial contrast between air pollution levels in northern versus southern China? According to the BBC, it is rooted in central planning policies that were formed in the 1950s.
One of these policies included a “free coal” plan, where the government give residents north of the Huai River fuel for heating their homes. While at the time, those in the south may have felt slighted, today they are breathing easier not having decades of widespread coal burning polluting their air.
While there is hope this will spur the Chinese government to institute changes in their use of coal — which CNN notes, equals the coal use of the rest of the world combined — economic barriers may make this difficult.
At present, China’s CO2 emissions continue to climb, increasing in over nine percent in 2011 alone. Decades of heavy, widespread coal and fossil fuel use in China have resulted in incredible levels of air pollution that even drastic policy changes may not be able to correct at this stage.