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Higher Risk Of Death For Poor On HK Bad Air Days

Wed Sep 10, 2008 12:00pm BST

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Poor people in Hong Kong have a higher risk of death when air pollution is bad, a seven-year study has found.

“The finding is that people living in highly-deprived areas had higher risk of mortality after bad air pollution days,” Wong Chit-ming, an associate professor at the University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health, said in an interview.

“Most deaths occurred a day after the air pollution index showed a rise,” said Wong, one of the researchers in the study, which was published in Environmental Health Perspectives.

The researchers pored through 215,240 deaths in Hong Kong between 1996 to 2002 from respiratory and cardiovascular causes. They had details on the districts they lived in, the income they earned when they were alive, whether they were single or married and if they lived alone before they died.

The data was compared against air pollution readings in the territory, taking into account four pollutants — nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter less than 10 micrometers in diameter, and ozone.

The researchers found that more deaths occurred in poor neighborhoods right after air pollution readings shot up.

“These areas have more unemployed people, households earning less than US$250 a month, single-person households, and more people living in shared flats,” Wong said.

Such a phenomenon was not observed in richer neighborhoods.

Explaining why poorer people were more susceptible, Wong said: “They may smoke more, have less time to exercise, have poorer nutrition, less access to healthcare.”

(Reporting by Tan Ee Lyn; Editing by Bill Tarrant)

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