Coal-fired plants in China cause smog that killed 9,900
Consumption of fossil fuel is biggest culprit behind early deaths and chronic diseases like asthma
Air pollution from 196 coal-fired power stations in Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei caused 9,900 premature deaths in 2011, with the province, a big coal consumer, deserving most of the blame, according to a new study.
The study looked at the health impact of burning the fossil fuel to generate electricity.
The research was co-authored by Greenpeace and American air pollution experts.
It also found that coal consumption in the region had led to chronic diseases, including 11,110 cases of asthma and 12,100 cases of bronchitis.
Among the deaths, 850 were due to lung cancer linked to the carcinogenic heavy metals - including arsenic, lead, cadmium and nickel - from the burning of coal, while the rest were attributed to stroke, heart disease and chronic lung problems.
The report has added to public concern about air pollution in the wake of the choking smog that blanketed northern Chinese cities last winter. "Seriously, it's time to consider leaving greater Beijing," one microblogger wrote in response to the study's findings.
Hebei is the country's third biggest consumer of coal and was responsible for 75 per cent of the premature deaths recorded, including some in Beijing and Tianjin, the study said. It found that acid gas, soot and dust from coal-burning activities travelled across administrative borders, the study found.
Beijing was the biggest victim, with more than 80 per cent of 1,982 premature deaths registered that were caused by coal-fired plants in Hebei and Tianjin.
Beijing's efforts to cut coal consumption in recent years had been easily offset by the enormous amount of the fuel burned by its neighbours, particularly Hebei, Greenpeace climate and energy campaigner Huang Wei said.
While Beijing is struggling to reduce its annual coal consumption from 27 million tonnes in 2010 to 20 million tonnes in 2015, Hebei alone consumed 307 million tonnes in 2011.
"The findings show that Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei are interdependent in terms of air quality as well as public health," Huang said. "And each of the local governments should start to do something.
"It is high time for Hebei to make substantial moves to reduce its coal consumption because it bears the biggest public health loss, with 6,700 premature deaths in the province."
New measures approved by the State Council last week did not include detailed plans to cut coal consumption nor the setting of a timetable to speed up air quality improvement in city clusters including the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei area, Huang said.
The study also showed that average levels of PM10, large particulate matter with a diameter of 10 microns, in January had increased sharply in Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei's provincial capital, Shijiazhuang , over the past three years, despite official claims that air quality had continued to improve.
The data, all from the Ministry of Environmental Protection's website, showed the public was right in thinking that the smog problem was getting worse, Huang said.
"The weather can be blamed as a reason for this trend, but I think that increasing pollution emissions should be counted as a major cause," she said.