Study Links Pollution on Beijing Subway to Increased Risk for Cancer

By Justine Lopez, August 18, 2017

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A recent study shows that air pollution levels on the Beijing subway are so high they might be hazardous to the health of commuters. Specifically, long-term subway users might be more prone to heart disease and lung cancer versus non-commuters.

The study was released on Thursday by Rock Environment and Energy Institute (REEI) and concludes that subway riders should wear masks to protect themselves from pollutants. The researchers also suggest that the local government work to improve ventilation in the city’s subways in order to help clean up the hazardous air.

“We can almost tell how bad it is just by smelling,” said Zhao Ang, director of REEI and primary author of the report.

Data was collected by volunteers between October and April. Volunteers took readings from 10 major lines around the capital during rush hour on Friday nights. Each volunteer was equipped with a portable device capable of measuring air quality.

An analysis of the data shows that PM2.5 levels were at 127 micrograms per cubic meter during warmer months. On average, that’s two times the amount that was found outdoors during the same months.

In the winter months the levels were even worse, coming in at 154 micrograms per cubic meter, a 50 percent increase over outdoor levels during the same months.

The worst offender was Line 8, and the lowest levels of PM2.5 were found on Line 13.

To put it in perspective, researchers say that commuters who ride the Beijing subway for 16 years are 1.83 percent more at risk from dying from heart disease and 2.42 percent more likely to get lung cancer.

“It may be the first comprehensive investigation on subway pollution and its public health impact in China," said Pan Xiaochuan, a professor of public health at Peking University. "The findings are based on reliable sampling and methodology. The evidence is strong.”

[Image via South China Morning Post]

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