Breathing New Life Into Air Pollution Studies

While air pollution has been a well-trodden topic concerning our environment, its actual hazard to human health remains less explored. Unbeknownst to many, over 90% of people worldwide are living in areas plagued by particulate matter (PM) levels exceeding limits set by the World Health Organization. Beside higher risks of stroke, lung cancer and heart disease, research by environmental economist Prof Guojun He and his collaborators has elucidated that sustained exposure to air pollution significantly lowered life expectancy.

Prof He’s research tapped into a decades-long winter heating policy in Mainland China, under which free or greatly subsidized coal had been supplied to the north but not the south of the Huai River. In the study, Prof He found particulate pollution to be significantly worse just north of the river, leading to a 3.1-year reduction in the average life expectancy. Prof Hu’s findings have since been used to develop an online Air Quality Life IndexTM, which quantifies the number of years that air pollution shaves off lifespans in different countries.

Prof He and his collaborators also looked into the effects of China’s temporary emission ban on Beijing’s air quality ahead of and during the 2008 Olympic Games. The dramatic improvement in air quality substantially reduced cardiovascular and respiratory deaths. Beyond that, Prof He found a close link between a drop in PM10 levels and the decline in monthly all-cause mortality rates as well as annual premature deaths.

Prof Guojun He is Assistant Professor of Social Science, Environment and Sustainability, and Economics. He was selected to join the World Economic Forum’s Young Scientists Class of 2018 and his work has won multiple awards, including Best Paper from China Health Policy and Management Society (2016) and two Gregory Chow Best Papers (2015, 2018) from the Chinese Economists Society.

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