Chinese Coal Consumption Cuts Life Expectancies

chinese-coal-consumptionIn the US we say there is no such thing as a free lunch and in China, perhaps the saying should go there is no such thing as free coal. A recent study concludes a government program giving free coal to people in northern China has decreased life expectancy rates by 5.5 years. For decades the government offered free coal to Chinese residents north of the Huai River to keep warm in the winter. Researchers now say using so much coal has led to severe air pollution and pollution-related diseases.

The free coal program started in the 1950’s and ended in 1980. Since then, cardio-respiratory diseases have plagued the 500 million residents living in the north. Researchers estimate that heart and lung diseases contracted from the pollution have cut an estimated cumulative 250 billion years off northern residents’ life expectancy.

How were researchers able to come up with these conclusions? The Chinese government inadvertently provided studies with a control group- all residents to the south of the Huai River. These residents have never received coal from the government and on average live 5.5 years longer than their northern neighbors. Air pollution is 55% less concentrated thus; they have less disease caused by pollution.

Despite these results, coal is still used as China’s main source of energy, with most coal plants located in the north. Researchers say China burns almost as much coal as the rest of the world combined. China has implemented programs to reduce dangerous emissions such as driving regulations and more use of solar panels. However, many researchers say life expectancies in the north could remain lower for decades.

Emily can be found on Google+.

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