Study links China air pollution, shorter lives

| Monday, July 8, 2013, 10:09 p.m.

BEIJING — A new study links heavy air pollution from coal burning to shorter lives in northern China.

Researchers estimate that the half-billion people living there in the 1990s will live an average of 5½ fewer years than their southern counterparts because they breathed dirtier air.

China made the comparison possible. For decades, a now-discontinued government policy provided free coal for heating, but only in the colder north. Researchers found significant differences in particle pollution of the air and life expectancy in the two regions, and said the results could be used to extrapolate the effects of such pollution on lifespans elsewhere.

The study by researchers from China, Israel and the United States was published on Tuesday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Previous studies have found that pollution affects human health, but “the deeper and ultimately more important question is the impact on life expectancy,” said one of the authors, Michael Greenstone, a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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