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A quarter of China’s children at risk from polluted indoor air at home, survey finds

China’s environment ministry ­has released its first survey on the exposure of the country’s infants and adolescents to environmental risks, showing how seriously children are threatened by indoor air pollution, unsafe drinking water and hazardous emissions from factories and vehicles.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection conducted its first nationwide survey on children’s pollution exposure patterns from 2013 to 2014, interviewing 75,519 children and teenagers up to the age of 17 in 30 provinces, it said in a statement on its official website.

“The impact of pollution on public health is not only decided by the pollutants’ concentration levels and toxicity, but also closely related to the exposure patterns,” ministry official Zou Shoumin said in a statement that explained why the ministry wanted to conduct the study.

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Official studies on the link between pollution and health have been limited in both number and scope in China, despite soaring cancer rates amid rampant water, air and soil pollution from factories and agricultural production.

The survey found Chinese children faced “dual risks”, from both traditional and modern environmental and health risks.

It showed that 26.8 per cent of respondents were exposed to indoor air pollution from cooking and heating through the burning of solid biomass, and that 12.7 per cent did not have access to drinking water that had been properly treated.

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Meanwhile, 13.6 per cent of respondents were residing less than 1,000 metres from factories with high environmental and health risks, in the sectors of petroleum, petrochemicals and coking, and 14.6 per cent were living within 50 metres of major roads, according to the statement.

However, the statement did not say how severe the pollution levels were or what the potential health implications might be.

The survey found that children’s pollution exposure patterns were “highly different” from those of other countries, a veiled suggestion that studies on pollution and health in other countries did not apply in China.

For instance, Zou said Chinese children were spending more time – 4.3 times as much – outdoors than their counterparts in the United States.

Pollution victims have frequently complained that authorities are reluctant to admit that their problems are the result of industrial emissions.

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They also found it difficult to prove the link when taking polluters to court.

Earlier this year, in a soil pollution scandal in Jiangsu province, city authorities in Changzhou insisted a school campus was safe even though more than 500 students reported various symptoms after moving into the new campus, close to a contaminated site.

The progress of an official assessment of the public health impact of the country’s notorious smog problem was painfully slow, as it involved several ministries, sources said.

In one of the few official studies on health and pollution, the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention for the first time confirmed the link between “cancer villages” along the Huai River and heavy pollution in the river basin in 2013, after three decades of study.