Sunday, December 1, 2013

Lung cancer rates soar in Beijing

Over the past couple weeks, we’ve repeatedly noted the severe smog outbreak that struck much of China as a consequence of stagnant airmasses and coal-fired power generating stations heating up for the winter (,

Of course, this year isn’t the first time China has dealt with a major smog outbreak. They’ve been dealing with major air quality issues for well over a decade; a consequence of their modernization and fossil fuel usage. This photo was taken in 2004; the grey air has only gotten worse since then.

Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued an important report on the subject, suggesting that hundreds of thousands of people die every year as a direct consequence of air pollution. Specifically in 2010, they estimated that there were 223,000 deaths due to lung cancer as a consequence of air pollution worldwide.

Normally, air pollution isn’t one of those problems we worry about every day; even in polluted areas we just tolerate it or ignore it, but those WHO numbers are staggering.

New data from China fits very well with those WHO estimates. In the past 10 years, incidents of lung cancer in Beijing have increased by 60%, from 39.56 to 63.09 per 100,000 people. The Chinese government suggests, correctly, that increasing smoking rates impact this number, but it seems extremely likely that air pollution is a major factor in this increase as well. Many of those additional cancer cases are being driven by their deteriorating air quality.

Although China’s air is an extreme case, these numbers are a stark reminder of how air pollution impacts lives throughout the world.

Image credit:Jesse Varner (Creative Commons license)

Press reports:

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