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Published: Wednesday, 4/2/2014


China syndrome

If China doesn’t control its air-pollution problem soon, the toll on its people will be high.

The latest proof of the economic giant’s unhealthy air was in a report last week from China’s environment ministry. Only three of the 74 cities tracked by the central government in 2013 — all in remote regions of the country — reached minimum standards for air quality.

The big offenders, including Beijing, were mostly in northern China, where dirty industries prevail. In that region, air standards were attained over little more than one-third of the days studied.

China’s pollution is a product of its rapid modernization, urbanization, and economic growth. Statistics tell a tale of rising disease rates and health threats.

Lung cancer accounts for 23 percent of cancer deaths in China each year. Those deaths have jumped 465 percent in three decades. Researchers predict that China’s cases of heart disease will rise by as much as 73 percent by 2030.

Factors besides unhealthful air contribute to these maladies, but toxic emissions are a growing threat to public health in China’s cities. The severe air readings, which would trigger alerts in the United States for people to stay indoors, have made tourists and business travelers to China think twice about visiting.

Xi Jinping, who became China’s president a year ago, promised forward-looking policies. But unless the country can control its air pollution, it will be forced to spend greater shares of its economic gains on health care.

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