China plans to invest $277 billion in the next five years to confront dangerous levels of pollution in this capital and other cities, as part of an action approved last month, official media said Thursday.

The State Council, chaired by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, approved the plan, the director of the Environmental Protection Ministry's Pollution Prevention and Control Department, Zhao Hualin, said.

Last year alone, severe pollution caused some 8,500 premature deaths in the cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Ghangzhou and Xi'an, according to figures from Greenpeace.

Most air-pollutant particles in China are produced by the petrochemical and auto-coating industries, Zhao said.

The action plan adopted in June will prioritize regions with high levels of pollution and tiny air-pollutant particles that can settle in the lungs and even in the bloodstream, said one of the authors of the draft, the vice president of the China Academy of Environmental Planning, Wang Jinnan.

The government plans to issue two more plans to combat and control air and water pollution and improve the rural environment.

Pollution is a major cause of public concern in China, where in 2012 air-pollution levels in 76.1 percent of the country's largest cities exceeded what is considered safe.

In January, Beijing had the worst pollution readings in the city's history.

In 2010, pollution resulted in economic losses valued at 1.1 trillion yuan ($176 billion), or 2.5 percent of GDP, according to an official study. EFE