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By Katherine Tweed

Coal combustion is the single largest source of air pollution-related deaths in China as of 2013. But the steady path toward cleaner sources of energy for power production and industrial use may not substantially curb the problem in the coming decades, according to a new study

There are nearly 1 million deaths annually that are attributable to fine particulate matter in outdoor air pollution in China, according to the research from Tsinghua University and Boston-based Health Effects Institute. About one-third of those are from burning coal across all sectors, including in homes.

But even with China's goals of limiting coal use, particularly the dirtiest forms, the absolute number of deaths related to air pollution would still rise through 2030 because of an aging population.

“The takeaway is you really need to reduce air pollution a lot to see the maximum effect on a metric like number of deaths in a given year,” said Aaron Cohen, a consultant scientist at the Health Effects Institute and professor of global health at the University of Washington.

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