A new study has revealed that air pollution in northern China has reduced the life expectancy of locals by about five and a half years. The findings are the result of a major study by a team of international researchers who are analyzing the health effects of China’s air pollution based on data collected locally – the first time such an investigation has been conducted.Northern China is home to some of the most smog-choked cities in the world and the northern region of the populous country is significantly worse off than its southern counterpart. Why? For decades, the region north of the Huai River was provided with free heat during the country’s icy winters. This extra coal consumption resulted in a dramatic spike in air pollution across the north. According to researchers, dangerous particles in the air are 55 percent higher in the northern region of China than they are in the south.
The air pollution isn’t just an issue for locals. Thick smog in cities like Beijing – which is popular with both leisure and business travelers – can reduce visibility and lead to flights being canceled. The suffocating air also keeps many health-conscious tourists away, leading to fears that the pollution may impact the economy.
After a protracted, freezing and rainy spring, summer finally hit Shanghai a few weeks ago. Prior to the sun breaching the clouds (if not always the smog), the streets were full of the poncho-wearing cyclists like the two in this shot by Flickr user jrodmanjr. Yes, two – the yellow blur is also a biker who whipped past at just the right moment. Ponchos are inevitably brightly colored because it’s hard enough surviving as a cyclist in Shanghai traffic without being invisible during frequent winter and spring rains.
By now I’m sure you’ve all read the reports of just how horrible the air quality in China has become. The smog has gotten so bad in Beijing, for example, that it has delayed flights, shrouded skyscrapers like fog and prompted health warnings for those venturing outside. But one Chinese entrepreneur thinks he may have the solution to this problem – fresh air in a can.
Last September, millionaire Chen Guangbiao introduced his product to the market for the first time, offering up three flavors of air in cans that resembles a soft drink. Those flavors include “Post-industrial Taiwan,” “Revolutionary Yan’an,” and the always popular “Pristine Tibet.” The cans of air sell for 5 yuan or roughly 80 cents a piece.
It would be easy to dismiss this move as a publicity stunt – something that Guangbiao has a reputation for in the past – but the businessman seems genuinely concerned about the growing environmental problem that his country now faces. He told ABC News that selling the cans of fresh air was an attempt to raise awareness of the issue and to show how committed he is to the cause. He went one step further by also giving away 5000 bicycles in an effort to encourage people to use non-motorized transportation.
For now though, improving the air quality seems like a low priority for the Chinese government, which is focused on continuing to ramp up industrial production for the 21st century. Considering that all but a handful of days in January were classified as “hazardous” air conditions in Beijing, however, perhaps they ought to reconsider their approach. Or at least start stocking more vending machines with these cans of fresh air.
If you’re looking to visit Beijing, China, in the near future you might want to consider packing a face mask in your suitcase. According to the Associated Press, one of the worst rounds of air pollution is currently engulfing the population there, keeping schoolchildren indoors and sending residents to hospitals.
According to the outlet, pollution peaked over the weekend, when off-the-charts levels hid the tops of city skyscrapers and caused face masks to fly off the shelves of drug stores. The news source reported that government monitoring showed levels of PM2.5 particles reached more than 700 micrograms per cubic meter on Saturday – a number that far outshadows the World Heath Organization’s safety levels of 25. At one point, separate monitoring by the U.S. Embassy reached 886 micrograms.
According to the Denver Post, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s air quality index only goes up to 500, and the agency says anything greater than 300 would trigger a health warning of “emergency conditions.”
The pollution, which is a major problem throughout China, is mostly due to the country’s rapid pace of industrialization, which also includes a reliance on coal power and explosive growth in car ownership, not to mention a general disregard for environmental laws.
Things are starting to look up, though. Thanks to vocal residents and environmental groups, the government is being more transparent about the air pollution than usual. In the past, officials played down the smog, but this time they are holding news conferences and posting messages on the Internet that discuss the pollution.
For more amazing photos of the smoggy capital, click through the gallery below.
That blanket over Bejing? Despite what the government wants to tell you, it isn’t just inclement weather. A new report from the US Embassy air monitor rates the air in Beijing as “beyond index”, with 522 micrograms of particulate pollutants per cubic meter of air, according to a new report on France24.com.
Despite authorities in China decreeing that the air quality is simply “fog,” and “perfectly save 80% of the time” the US report states that the air is only good 13 days out of the year.
Citizens and expats alike are turning to Twitter to check out @BeijingAir, an account with more than 15,000 followers, to find the actual data on air quality. Air monitors on the embassy roof have found particles large enough to penetrate human lungs, up to 2.5 micrometers in size. This technology is more advanced than the ones local authorities use to measure pollution.
Two years ago, Chinese officials asked the US Embassy to stop tweeting about pollution in Beijing on the grounds that the information was “confusing” and could have “social consequences”, according to a confidential US State Department cable made public by WikiLeaks.
Chinese officials say that they will be able to measure the particles themselves by 2015.
“It is advisable not to go out in such weather, especially when there is this hazy fog, but at the same time you have to work. For several years now, I have been wearing a surgical mask every time I am on the street or going to my workplace,” a Beijing resident was quoted telling France24.com.
Those visiting the city are cautioned to limit time outside and to use anti-pollution masks that filter out fine air particles when traveling outdoors.