China has always seemed to have a problem with air pollution ever since the country has industrialized. For one of the most populous countries in the world, the government in China has always remained extremely lax when the issue of environmental safety to its citizens is concerned.
However, it now seems that China’s government has no choice but to pay attention to environmental concerns.
Toxic smog produced by China’s factories and cars has forced the country’s government to issue a “red alert” on air quality for the second time in December in Beijing. A red alert is issued by China’s government when the weather forecast calls for more than 72 hours of stagnant air, (lack of wind). In the Chinese capital of Beijing, levels of PM2.5 – or some of the finest and most dangerous particles of smog possible in the air – were calculated yesterday to be at 331 parts per million. If that isn’t bad enough, officials in China state that if the wind doesn’t pick up soon and blow the smog off shore, the levels of PM2.5 could reach over 500 parts per million by early this week. The World Health Organization recently commented that 500 parts per million would be 20 times greater than the level that is currently considered safe for human beings.
The Beijing skyline is barely visible through the thick layer of toxic smog.
[Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images][/caption]
What exactly does a “red alert” in China entail? Reports state that China has severely restricted factory production as well as the amount of cars it allows on its roads in an effort to cut down on the toxic smog that is being pumped into the atmosphere. The primary cause “of a sudden,” red alert is a lack of heavy winds over parts of China, which has left the country’s citizens struggling for fresh air. Reports have stated that a majority of China’s urban residents have elected to stay indoors as the air quality outside is unbearable.
Since the red alert was put into effect, schools in Beijing have been closed, and over half of the registered cars have been banned from the roads. Outdoor grills and fires are also banned.
Right now, the biggest sources of toxic smog in China are from coal-fired power plants and the ever-growing amount of automobiles on China’s highways. There are mountains on three sides of Beijing which trap smog above the capital city in a dense cloud. According to a report from the World Health Organization, if China’s government doesn’t reduce its carbon emissions from industrial sources and invest heavily in renewable energy technology, the effects of the already toxic level of air pollution in the country could produce terrifying results.
Some of the health effects caused by air pollution the likes of which China is now experiencing include ischaemic heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (or COPD), lung cancer, and acute lower respiratory infections in children. The World Health Organization warned that over 7 million premature deaths are already linked to air pollution worldwide.
Dr. Flavia Bustreo, the World Health Organization Assistant Director, spoke specifically on how air pollution affects lower-income women and children and other highly susceptible groups.
“Cleaning up the air we breathe prevents noncommunicable diseases as well as reduces disease risks among women and vulnerable groups, including children and the elderly. Poor women and children pay a heavy price from indoor air pollution since they spend more time at home breathing in smoke and soot from leaky coal and wood cook stoves.”
The question now is, can China backpedal from the brink of disaster? The country’s growing economy depends on the millions of factories the country contains, and as its economy improves, more and more Chinese citizens expect to drive their own cars. What do you think? Can China improve its own air quality?
[Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images]