OSU chemist Staci Simonich and graduate student Wentao Wang studied air pollution at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, both in the field and the laboratory.
air pollution control measures that were put in place in Beijing during
the 2008 Olympic Games – if continued – would cut almost in half the
lifetime risk of lung cancer for the area’s residents from certain
inhaled pollutants, a new study concludes.
might translate to about 10,000 fewer lifetime cases of lung cancer in
this large metropolitan area, scientists said, which is only one of
several in China that have unhealthy levels of air pollution, largely
from the burning of coal, biomass and automobile exhaust in a rapidly
The findings were published today in Environmental Health Perspectives,
a professional journal, by researchers from Oregon State University and
Peking University in Beijing. This is one of the first studies to
actually study the health benefits of pollution control strategies in a
research looked at the chemical composition and carcinogenic impact of a
range of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs – a group of
compounds that result from almost any type of combustion, ranging from a
wood stove to a coal-fired power plant or an automobile’s exhaust.
are known pollutants that have been of declining concern in the United
States due to pollution controls and the move to cleaner forms of energy
production, but are making a huge comeback in the developing world with
the advent of industrialization, population growth and heavy use of
OSU research has also found that the level of pollutants in some Asian
nations is now so high that PAH compounds are crossing the Pacific Ocean
and being deposited in the U.S., even in remote areas. China is now the
leading emitter of PAH pollutants in the world, followed by India and
the United States.
pollution was definitely reduced by the actions China took during the
2008 Olympics, such as restricting vehicle use, decreasing coal
combustion and closing some pollution-emitting factories,” said Staci
Simonich, an associate professor of chemistry and environmental
toxicology at OSU. “That’s a positive step, and it shows that if such
steps were continued it could lead to a significant reduction in cancer
risk from these types of pollutants.”
but not all, of the steps taken during the Olympics have been
continued, the researchers said, including some reductions in
coal-burning emissions and other measures.
issues are more problematic. The number of vehicles in Beijing, for
instance, is continuing to increase 13 percent a year, the report noted.
“Controlling vehicle emissions is key to reducing the inhalation cancer
risks due to PAH exposure in Chinese megacities,” the researchers wrote
in their study.
air pollution is a major health concern in China, the researchers said
in their report. Associated health care costs are possibly as high as
3.8 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, according to the
been estimated that 300,000 people a year die in China from heart
disease and lung cancer associated with ambient air pollution, including
research found that in Beijing, a metropolitan area with 22 million
people, the existing level of PAH pollution would lead to about 21,200
lifetime cases of lung cancer, but that would drop to 11,400 cases if
pollution controls similar to those imposed during the 2008 Olympics
is definitely a health concern and one that deserves attention in China
by both the government and public,” said Yuling Jia, a postdoctoral
research associate at OSU and co-author on this study.
also worth noting that the leading PAH emitter in rural China is not
automobiles or things like coal-fired power plants, but the biomass
burning associated with many other local activities, such as wood fuel
used for cooking or heating, or the burning of agricultural fields,” Jia
said. “All of this needs to be considered.”
factor on an individual level, the researchers said, is that some
people are more vulnerable to PAH inhalation than others, due to their
genetics, behavioral issues such as smoking, or occupation.
study was supported by the National Science Foundation in the U.S., the
National Science Foundation of China, and the National Institute of
Environmental Health Sciences. It is one outgrowth of a recent, $12.4
million Superfund Basic Research Program Grant from NIEHS to OSU to
study the health risks and impacts of PAH exposure.