Ex-Chinese health minister says air pollution kills up to 500,000 people a year

China’s former health minister claims the severe air pollution in the country claims hundreds of thousands of lives each year. Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images

Between 350,000 and 500,000 people die in China each year from severe air pollution, the country’s former health minister says.

Chen Zhu, who served as minister until March 2013, released his claims in a commentary published in the December issue of The Lancet medical journal. Chen’s revelations are particularly significant, the Telegraph writes, as he is the most senior government official who has mentioned a pollution-related death toll— which are generally subject to censorship in China.

In the commentary, Chen wrote that pollution is now “the fourth biggest threat to the health of Chinese people” behind heart disease, dietary risk, and smoking. However, he noted that new, tougher regulations for the country — which he says is now the largest producer of pollutants in the world — would prevent around 200,000 deaths in the country.

Meanwhile, a researcher from the University of China and North Carolina State University has suggested a new solution to China’s pollution problem. In an article published in the journal Environmental Chemistry Letters, Shaocai Yu suggests “spraying water into the atmosphere from sprinklers) atop tall buildings and towers, similar to watering a garden.”

According to the article, the practice would, “simulate natural types of precipitation that are able to most effectively scavenge or collect and remove aerosol and gaseous pollutants.”

“If you can spend half an hour watering your garden,” Yu wrote, “you can also spend 30 minutes watering your ambient atmosphere to keep the air clean with this technique.”

H/T Sam Lane