Particulate Matter Levels (PM10) South And North Of The Huai River Boundary

Life Expentancy (Years) South And North Of The Huai River Boundary

Source: Ebenstein, Fan, Greenstone, He, Zhou, New Evidence On The Impact Of Sustained Exposure To Air Pollution On Life Expectancy From China’s Huai River Policy, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, September 2017

While India experienced record air pollution this November, China shut down tens of thousands of its factories and mandated the use of natural gas instead of coal in an unprecedented move to crack down on pollution. And, for good reason. A study by EPIC Director Michael Greenstone and his colleagues found that people who live just to the north of China’s Huai River live 3 years less than people who live just to the south of it. This loss in life expectancy appears to be due to particulates air pollution, which is 46 percent higher just to the north of the river. The differences in life expectancy and air pollution are due to a policy that provided free coal for winter heating to the north of the river. The elevated mortality is entirely due to an increase in cardiorespiratory deaths, further suggesting that air pollution is the cause of reduced life expectancies.

Using an innovative natural experiment formed from the Chinese policy, the researchers isolated the impact of sustained exposure to particulates air pollution from other factors that affect health. This allowed the study’s results to be generalized to quantify the number of years that air pollution reduces lifespans around the globe—not just in China. Specifically, Greenstone and colleagues at EPIC used the findings to develop a new pollution index, the Air Quality-Life Index (AQLI)TM. The index allows users to better understand the impact of air pollution on their lives by calculating how much longer they would live if pollution were brought into compliance with their national or global standards.

Meanwhile, the Chinese government pledged in August to cut northern air pollution by 15 percent in the winter months. As part of its efforts, China is switching its primary source of heating from coal-fired boilers to gas-fired or electric units, along with shutting down polluting plants.

READ MORE: Study: New evidence on the impact of sustained exposure to air pollution on life expectancy from China’s Huai River Policy

By: Michael Greenstone, Avraham Ebenstein (Hebrew University of Jerusalem), Maoyong Fan (Ball State), Guojun He (Hong Kong University of Science and Technology), and Maigeng Zhou (Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention)

Areas of Focus: AQLI
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