Pollution kills 10,000 a year in southern China

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HONG KONG (AFP) – At least 10,000 deaths every year in Hong Kong, Macau and neighbouring southern China are caused by the area’s worsening air pollution, according to a study released Wednesday.

Air pollution is also responsible for 440,000 hospital bed days and 11 million doctor visits each year, the Hong Kong-based think tank Civic Exchange said in its study.

“We estimate that there are about 10,000 deaths occurring which are attributable to daily pollution, 10,000 deaths which are potentially avoidable,” said Anthony Hedley, a professor in the department of community medicine at Hong Kong University who worked on the study.

“Our estimates are very conservative,” he told reporters at the launch of the report, “A price too high.”

The researchers calculated the price of pollution at 6.7 billion yuan (968 million US) every year in health costs and productivity losses. Satellite images show the situation worsened between 2003 and 2006 — the year the data was taken from.

The area studied by a team of public health and environmental scientists stretched from Hong Kong and Macau to the Pearl River Delta, where thousands of factories have sprung up during China’s economic boom the past 30 years.

Hedley said people were suffering from cardiovascular and respiratory diseases brought on by the pollution. One area the study had not been able to completely assess was the impact on pregnant women and their children.

“The unborn child… is being irrigated by pollutants breathed by the mother,” he said.

“We know that children who are exposed to that kind of insult may be born with an increased disposition to respiratory illness, illness episodes and hospital admissions.”

The scientists called on the Hong Kong, Macau and Guangdong governments to adopt an overall air quality management framework, tighten air quality standards and provide real-time pollution data to the public.

It also said Hong Kong should make immediate efforts to reduce emissions from land and sea transport.

Some business groups say Hong Kong’s poor air quality is harming the city’s ability to attract senior managers and compromising its position as an international finance centre.

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