Nowadays it is a well-known fact that air quality is a major environmental health risk, as acknowledged by the World Health Organization (WHO). Outdoor air pollution is related to an increased risk of premature mortality due to various heart, pulmonary and respiratory diseases including stroke and long cancer. At the same time, the WHO has acknowledged that proper attention to workers’ occupational health has many benefits for both employers and workers.
In our opinion, this should also be taken into account in the important decisions that have to be made in the next few months about the plans of the University of Groningen to establish a campus in Yantai (henceforth referred to as UGY). For a research-intensive university such as ours, it is second nature to gather relevant knowledge and to base decisions on solid empirical evidence whenever possible. We contribute to this endeavour by sharing data that we have collected about the air quality in Yantai (the more elaborate report with references, additional graphs, technical details and research methodology can be found here). To our best knowledge, this is the first article that provides a clear overview of this important dimension of the daily working conditions of prospective UGY employees.
There are various pollutants but our focus is on particulate matter with a diameter up to 2.5 μmeter, PM2.5. Exposure to PM2.5 has adverse health consequences and the EU standard prescribes that the PM2.5 concentration, averaged over a year, should not exceed 25 μm/m3. Figure 1 compares the average monthly PM2.5 concentration of the locations Nijesteinheerd in Beijum, Groningen and Yantai for the period December 1, 2015 – May 31, 2017. It is clear that the averages in Yantai are considerably higher than in Groningen and exceed the EU standard. The health effect of the difference in concentration is roughly equivalent to 16 passively smoked cigarettes a day.
Figure 1: Monthly averages of PM2.5 concentration (daily average in μm/m3), December 2015 – May 2017.
Figure 2 gives a perspective on how much worse the air quality is in Yantai by putting every observation in the corresponding AQI category, a widely used index of air quality. Whereas over 96 per cent of all observations in Groningen can be classified as ‘Good’ or ‘Moderate’, this holds for less than 55 per cent of all observations in Yantai. In fact, 22 per cent of all observations in Yantai are classified as ‘Unhealthy’ or worse, which means that ‘everyone may begin to experience adverse health effects’.
Figure 2: Histogram of PM2.5 concentration (daily average in μm/m3) in AQI categories, December 2015 – May 2017.
In our opinion, the health aspects of the UGY-project deserve more consideration than the little attention they have received so far. Our data suggest that the air quality in Yantai is at least worrisome. As a responsible employer, the University of Groningen should provide healthy working conditions to its employees. Occupational health can simply not be sidestepped in the debate on the UGY. We hope that, by providing the data, this issue will be further debated.
Adriaan Soetevent is a professor of microeconomics at the Faculty of Economics and Business and University College Groningen
Laura Spierdijk is a professor of econometrics at the Faculty of Economics and Business