China’s pollution: the sorry story of smog

21 Feb

Air pollution is a major environmental risk to health. Smog has been a longstanding issue in China. Residents of China’s capital, Beijing, have been warned to take precautions after air pollution readings soared. Readings on Thursday registered more than 20 times the recommended exposure levels by the World Health Organisation (WHO). This has posed serious threat to the country. Not only does it reduce visibility to just a few hundred metres, it also leaves the air smelling acidic and is dangerous to breathe in.

Officials advised people going to work to wear protective masks, and children and the elderly to stay indoors.

WHO guidelines say average concentrations of the tiniest pollution particles – called PM2.5 – should be no more than 25 microgrammes per cubic metre. On Thursday, official readings for PM2.5 at one point showed more than 500 microgrammes per cubic metre.

Another monitoring post at the US embassy said the pollution level was briefly more than 25 times higher than the amount considered safe by WHO.

So what is being done?

Beijing‘s mayor pledged Thursday to cut coal use by 2.6 million tons and set aside 15 billion yuan (2.4 billion dollars) to improve air quality this year as part of the city’s “all-out effort” to tackle air pollution, according to China‘s state news agency Xinhua. (Monitor, 2014)

The city also aims to ban all heavily polluting vehicles this year, cut new car registrations and promote new energy vehicles. Beijing reported 58 days of serious pollution last year, or one every six to seven days on average, Zhang Dawei, director of the Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center told Xinhua. (Monitor, 2014).

China had also shut down 8,347 heavily polluting companies last year in northern Hebeiprovince, which has the worst air pollution in the entire country. Although the government has acted against the pollution to tackle the problem it has been a source of discontent to many business’ and even some populations, particularly of those becoming unemployed. High pollution levels have sparked widespread public anger and officials concerned about social unrest have responded by implementing tougher policies. Local authorities will block new projects and punish officials in regions where pollution is severe due to lax enforcement.

China has drawn up dozens of laws and guidelines to improve the environment but has struggled to enforce them in the face of powerful enterprises.

References

Monitor, T. 2014. China’s pollution: The desolation of smog?. [online] Available at: http://www.csmonitor.com/Environment/Latest-News-Wires/2014/0117/China-s-pollution-The-desolation-of-smog [Accessed: 21 Feb 2014].

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