Air pollution from burning coal can significantly shortens the lives of people exposed to the particulates, according to a study of China's air quality by an MIT economist.
The study predicts that some 500 million Chinese living "north of the Huai River are set to lose an aggregate 2.5 billion years of life expectancy due to the extensive use of coal to power boilers for heating throughout the region."
For people living south of the Huai, where government policies are less accommodating of coal-powered heating, the life expectancy outlook is much more positive.
The Chinese government has recently pledged to tackle air pollution but the task is daunting: The US's 45 micrograms of particulates per cubic metre during the 1990s pales in comparison with China's more than 400 micrograms during the same period. The situation has become worse in many Chinese cities, including Beijing: pollution levels in January of this year reached as high as 700 micrograms per cubic metre.
Sources: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences; Phys.org; The Guardian