Monday 24th October 2016                 Change text size:

Air pollution blamed after Chinese girl, 8, gets lung cancer

Shanghai smog by Johann Visagie via flickr

An unnamed eight-year-old girl has become the youngest person in China to be diagnosed with lung cancer, with her doctor saying that air pollution is to blame, according to official reports.

The girl, from the eastern province of Jiangsu, allegedly lives near a busy road. A report that has been reprinted on the website of People’s Daily, the Communist party news outlet, quotes Dr Feng Dongjie as saying that exposure to high levels of the air pollutant PM2.5 is to blame for the girl’s condition.

“Nowhere is safe in this country any more. There are no words, only tears”, one user of Sina Weibo – China’s equivalent of Twitter – wrote.

PM2.5 refers to tiny particle matter that has a diameter of 2.5 micrometers, which can reduce visibility and be a major health concern in high amounts. Fine particles largely come from sources such as vehicle exhausts and the burning of fossil fuels.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says PM 2.5 is harmful in quantities of more than 20 micrograms per cubic metre. Recent measurements from China have recently found peak levels of over 1,000. 

Speaking to Blue & Green Tomorrow in 2012, Jonathan Grigg, a professor of paediatric respiratory and environmental medicine at Queen Mary University London, said fossil fuel derived particles make other conditions like asthma worse – especially in children.

He added, “In other words, if you have asthma, you are more liable to have deterioration of your symptoms in days of high pollution.”

A WHO study published in October classified airborne pollution like PM2.5 as the most widespread environmental carcinogen, finding a correlation between particulate matter and the likelihood of both lung and bladder cancer. It has been estimated that exposure to high levels of PM2.5 were responsible for 1.2m deaths in China in 2010.

A previous study published in July also found that air pollution in northern China reduces life expectancy by five-and-a-half years.

In October, the “airpocalypse” – as it was dubbed – made headlines again, as the Chinese city of Harbin was ground to a halt by smog. Schools, motorways and an airport were closed throughout the city.

The Chinese government has pledged to reduce coal consumption and tackle pollution, but the crisis is expected to get worse this winter.

Further reading:

World Bank: cutting pollutants will save millions of lives

World Health Organisation: air pollution is carcinogenic to humans

China to slow down coal consumption as part of clean air plan

Coal pollution in China ‘reduces life expectancy’

Airpocalypse Now: China and its environmental problems

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