Beijing’s Pollution Literally Goes Off The Chart

220px-Beijing_smog_comparison_August_2005While I have enjoyed my trips to China, I always hesitate to accept invitations due to the incredible pollution levels, particularly in Beijing. Every visit, I assume that it cannot get worse but it does — often you cannot see across a street due to the pollution. Many foreigners in Beijing often use the U.S. embassy’s pollution index to determine whether to go outside because of the Chinese government’s consistent underreporting of pollution data. It is common for people to remain inside all day because the pollution levels are so dangerous. Last week, even the Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center said on its website that the density of PM2.5 particulates had surpassed 700 micrograms per cubic meter in many parts of the city. The World Health Organization considers a safe daily level to be 25 micrograms per cubic meter. The level of pollution in the city is now beyond the measurements of standard pollution devices.

As in other parts of the country, the pollution levels continue to increase due to the government’s blind pursuit of higher production figures, rampant corruption, and a cultural barrier on environmental protection.

PM2.5 are especially dangerous because they are tiny particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in size, or about 1/30th the average width of a human hair. That allows them to go deep into the lungs. Even the Chinese government has asked children and the elderly to remain indoors and has cancelled outdoor activities. This is nothing new. Yet, the government has failed to address the rampant pollution problems that makes citizens into prisoners in their homes. Yet, without a political freedom and freedom of speech, the government is safe from backlash.

The U.S. embassy reported that in a 24-hour period, 18 of the hourly readings were “beyond index.” The highest number was 755 or PM2.5 density of 886 micrograms per cubic meter. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s air quality index goes up to only 500. The 300 line is considered the red line — anything above 300 is considered an “emergency condition.”

This of course does not consider the equally frightening levels of water pollution and cancer villages. Last week, there was a series of pictures taken by environmentalists of tens of thousands of shark fins drying on Chinese roofs — evidence of the rising consumption of the Chinese markets that now threaten whole species. Some 10,200 metric tons of shark fin were imported into Hong Kong in 2011 with fisherman often cutting off the fins and throwing the sharks back into the water to die. Some 75 million sharks are killed for their fins only each year with Chinese demanding more and more fins for shark fin soup and other delicacies.

I have not gone to China for a few years because I do not want to spend even a few days in such unhealthy conditions. The loss of tourism however is nothing compared to the high levels of illness and premature deaths caused by the government’s blind economic policies.  I have always found flying into Beijing as unnerving as you watch the plane descend into what looks like a solid mass of pollution.

There is a long debate over the cultural barriers encountered in China by environmentalists. I have met incredibly brave Chinese activists who struggle daily to change long-standing views of the environment in China. However, the runaway pollution in China may ultimately produce a political threat for the government and force action, though this has been a problem for decades.

Source: LA Times
Kudos: Professor Don Clarke

4 thoughts on “Beijing’s Pollution Literally Goes Off The Chart”

  1. Nothing will happen until people start dropping like flies – because that’s how much value the Chinese dictatorship puts in the lives of its citizens. It sees them as worth naught more than flies, and doesn’t care if thousands die.

    Thousands are already dying annually in mining accidents, who knows how many die as slave labour in places like foxconn, plus the deaths from other toxic exposure (i.e. China is the biggest dismantler of old computers which contain toxic chemicals).

    It’s not different than the attitude in the US and many other countries. The people who are dying are the poorest, those living on subsistence, those without any political voice or concern from others.

  2. There is a picture of our future I believe. As our economic masters push for less and less regulation and oversight in their never ending quest to git things done as cheaply as possible. They want us to work for Chinese level wages & with Chinese levels of safety and health regulations.

  3. Scary situation. We have a friend who I visiting her daughter in Beijing. Something as to give soon or no one will want to stay in th city.

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