Researchers have established a clear, quantifiable relationship between pollution in North China and life expectancy. They found that 500 million people in the country will lose a combined 2.5 billion years. North China receives free heating, which is powered by dirty coal, as part of government policy established decades ago for residents north of the Huai river. As a result, pollution in the region is 55 percent higher than in other areas, according to The Guardian. Research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences show that on average, individuals lose five and a half years of their life as a result of this pollution.

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The researchers from Israel, Beijing and MIT created a metric of the “total suspended particles” or TSP, which measures the number of airborne particles in a cubic meter of air. They were able to establish for the first time, according to co-author of the study Michael Greenstone, an MIT Economics Professor, a measurable link between high TSP levels and increased incidents of cardiorespiratory illness.

Long-term exposure to air containing 100 micrograms of TSP per cubic meter “is associated with a reduction in life expectancy at birth of about 3.0 years,” The Guardian reports. Following data collected over 19 years, the researchers found that Chinese residents living north of the Huai River were much more likely to die prematurely as a result of higher levels of pollution.

In January, pollution levels in Beijing spiked to levels 30 times higher than deemed healthy by the World Health Organization, and widespread protests has put pressure on the government to arrest the problem. Recently the government announced that the courts have permission to sentence polluters to death if their environmental crimes are thought to be serious enough.

Via The Guardian