China has become the world’s largest exporter, leading to the country’s rapid economic development — and notorious pollution that’s harmful to human health. For the first time, scientists have estimated this trend’s health cost. They report in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology that in 2007, export-related emissions in China led to almost 160,000 deaths.
Qiang Zhang and colleagues note that Chinese exports have increased at an annual rate of about 20 percent over the past 10 years. This fast clip has boosted the economy but is also contributing significantly to air pollutant emissions. These emissions lead to increases in concentrations of fine particulate matter, which has been linked to cardiovascular and respiratory problems and related deaths. Some research has provided information to help estimate how much the export industry is contributing to air pollution, but so far, no work has measured the health effects. Zhang’s team decided to fill that gap.
The researchers calculated that China’s export-related emissions in 2007 caused 157,000 deaths. That accounted for 12 percent of the overall mortality due to fine particulate matter in the country. They also noticed geographic and economic disparities. Health problems experienced by people in the central, northern and western regions of the country (where heavy, emissions-intensive industries are concentrated) were disproportionately high compared to the economic benefits. Based on their findings, the researchers recommend several policy measures, such as updating technology to reduce harmful pollutants from industry.