Time to clean the air around long-term damage done by persistent smog

By Wang Yuanfeng Source:Global Times Published: 2013-2-7 18:53:01

As the lingering smog in Central and East China has gradually been swept away, people begin to pay less attention to the issue.

Media coverage on the causes of smog seems to have come to an end. Authorities have already published emergency response plans. The Beijing Municipal Air Pollution Control Regulation draft has been unveiled.

Are these measures enough? Definitely not. An evaluation is needed of the losses brought by this record-breaking case of air pollution.

Chinese authorities are already used to making evaluations after natural disasters such as an earthquake or a flood, so as to carry out rescue and reconstruction work. Some see it as unnecessary to make such an evaluation for the latest smog, as there have been no reported deaths or fallen buildings due to the toxic air.

But that's exactly why we should make clear the life and property losses and make people realize the danger of air pollution.

The evaluation may include the traffic casualties and economic losses in various fields caused by the smog, its impact on people's health and the number of people who have prematurely died of diseases caused by the smog.

The data would help to minimize the negative impact when the next round of air pollution hits.

The Great Smog of 1952 in London, which resulted in the passing of the landmark Clean Air Act of 1956, was quite similar to the recent one in China.

Official medical reports estimated that 4,000 people died prematurely due to the Great Smog and another 100,000 fell ill. The public was shocked at these figures. But later research showed that even such high figures were a big understatement, and that the death toll was around 12,000.

There has already been some similar research within China. Greenpeace, a non-government organization, and the School of Public Health of Peking University have jointly studied the impact on public health and the economic losses brought by PM2.5.

The study, publicized in December, 2012, estimated that over 8,500 premature deaths occurred in the four major Chinese cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Xi'an in 2012 due to high levels of PM2.5 pollution and the economic losses amounted to 6.8 billion yuan ($1.09 billion).

A joint report by the Asian Development Bank and Tsinghua University in January also evaluated the annual economic losses caused by the air pollution in China. The expenditure on illnesses is estimated at 1.2 percent of China's GDP.

However, the abovementioned reports are all targeted at the overall impact of air pollution on a yearly basis rather than at particular pollution events. That's a gap which needs to be filled.

The author is a professor at Beijing Jiaotong University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

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