Gasping For Air

Aug 16 2012 @ 2:44pm

by Patrick Appel

A dispatch on Chinese cities describes "smog the color of gargled milk":

The air in Harbin was so polluted that I felt as though the coal dust had sunk into my lungs, and a fine layer of black soot seeped in through our windows overnight. But even Harbin wasn't as filthy as Linfen, a city of 4 million people in central China's Shanxi province thatTime in 2007, on a list of the world's 20 most polluted cities, said made "Dickensian London look as pristine as a nature park."

Relatedly, Robin Hanson chronicles the costs of dirty air:

The US Federal EPA standard for air pollution in the form of particles of size 2.5 microns or smaller is an annual average of 15, and a 24 hour average of 35, micrograms per cubic centimeter. Many places are not in compliance with these standards (check your area here and here).

A 2009 paper in the New England Journal of Medicine estimated that decreasing this pollution number by 10 units on average increases lifespan by 0.61±0.20 years. A 2006 paper in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine estimated that such a change would decrease mortality by about 15%, adding about two years of lifespan. … These are huge gains, which could be achieved at a modest expense, especially compared to the vast costs we pay for tiny health gains via medicine. More should be done.