Science - September 16, 2004

Deadly particles in China

In the big cities of China tens of thousands of people may die as a result of air pollution from aerosols, tiny particles suspended in the air.

This warning comes from Professor Sjaak Slanina of the Meteorology and Air Quality group and Dr Yuanhang Zhang of Peking University. The researchers carried out an analysis of the effects of aerosols in a number of areas of China, using measurements of aerosol concentrations taken by Zhang.

For the capital city of Beijing, which has fourteen million inhabitants, the researchers estimate that five to ten thousand people a year die from the acute effects of aerosols, which include soot particles. An additional twenty to fifty thousand deaths occur as the result of chronic disorders. The researchers admit, however, that the figures are not entirely watertight. For example, these figures are based on the likelihood of death occurring as a result of exposure to aerosols in Europe, and it is not certain whether these are valid for China. The European figures are based on epidemiological studies in which the causal relationship between cardio-respiratory diseases and breathing in aerosols has been established.

Slanina, who has a part-time position at Peking University, wants to do further research on the dangers of aerosols with Zhang and other Chinese colleagues, and bring the matter to the attention of the Chinese government and the population. / HB