Expert: Air pollution is more frightening than SARS

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Children from a primary school in Xuzhou, Jiangsu province, dance at smoggy Tian'anmen Square in Beijing on Thursday. [China Daily]

Air pollution is more frightening than SARS because no one can escape it, said Zhong Nanshan, a leading Chinese specialist in respiratory diseases, during a TV interview aired on Wednesday.

An academic at the Chinese Academy of Engineering, the outspoken Zhong is also known for exposing the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) cover-up in 2003. The six-month SARS epidemic in 2003 killed 775 people in 25 countries.

Amid air pollution, people are left with limited choices in selecting their lifestyles, Zhong said.

"It is more frightening than SARS. For SARS, you can consider quarantine and other means. But no one can escape from the air pollution and indoor pollution."

Air pollution is an important factor in both the incidence and causes of respiratory diseases, Zhong said.

When the concentration of PM2.5 increases by 10 micrograms per cubic meter, hospitalization may increase by up to 3.1 percent, he said, citing research done with a co-worker in Hong Kong.

When the concentration of PM2.5 rises from 25 micrograms per cubic meter to 200, the average daily fatality rate may rise up to 11 percent.

PM2.5 refers to particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter, which can penetrate the lungs and are more harmful than larger particles.

Pollution harms not only the respiratory system but also the cardiovascular, cerebral vascular and nerve systems.

"Cases of lung cancer have increased by 60 percent in Beijing in the past decade. This is a very shocking figure. Air pollution is a significant cause," Zhong said.

"I think apart from the pharyngitis, nasitis and some eye diseases that affect some people, in the longer term the human body can come to great harm."


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