Tiny air pollutants kill thousands, cost billions in China

BEIJING Wed Dec 19, 2012 10:09am IST

Chimneys from the huge state-owned lead smelter are visible behind a sign that reads, ''Strict environmental protection law enforcement, crack down on illegal behaviors'' in the town of Tianying, Anhui Province, November 19, 2012. REUTERS/David Gray/Files

Chimneys from the huge state-owned lead smelter are visible behind a sign that reads, ''Strict environmental protection law enforcement, crack down on illegal behaviors'' in the town of Tianying, Anhui Province, November 19, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/David Gray/Files

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BEIJING (Reuters) - Microscopic pollutant particles in the air have killed some 8,600 people prematurely this year and cost $1 billion in economic losses in four Chinese cities, according to a study by Beijing University and Greenpeace.

The study of pollutant levels of PM2.5, or particles smaller than 2.5 micrometres in diameter, in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Xi'an called for PM2.5 levels to be cut to World Health Organisation guidelines, which would reduce deaths by over 80 percent, the China Daily newspaper said on Wednesday.

PM2.5 particles are known to damage the lungs and cardiovascular systems, cause lung cancer and other diseases, being small enough to settle directly in the respiratory system.

China's rapid growth has brought with it serious environmental problems, from polluted rivers to smog that often shrouds cities.

The government has recently asked major cities to release readings on PM2.5 levels to the public.

(Reporting by Jonathan Standing; Editing by Michael Perry)

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