The rise of air pollution in China

25 Feb

The extremely high level of air pollution and smog in many areas in China is becoming a major threat to millions of lives, due to the risk of contracting a respiratory disease or lung cancer. Dust particles with a diameter of 2.5 micrometres or less (PM2.5) are known as being especially dangerous, as they can harm the respiratory system as well as the cardiovascular system. According to China’s former health minister, Chen Zhu, air pollution causes between 350,000 and 500,000 early deaths each year; this number could be decreased simply if the authorities focus more on prevention and treatment of diseases caused by the smog.


This air pollution comes from a range of different sources, including the transportation sector (due to the increasing use of vehicles which emit toxic gases); as well as factories and heavy industry located in urban areas. As a result of these sources the concentration of particulates and sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere is rapidly increasing, leading to the smog that can be seen in several urban areas in China. In order to tackle the problem of air pollution it has been suggested that there should be stricter fuel standards for vehicles, as well as the closure or relocation of factories which are a source of pollution.


One of the worst hit areas in China is Heibei province in Northern China, where the pollution crisis has reached such a high level that one Chinese citizen has sued the government for failing to control air pollution. Li Guixin, who lives in the capital of Hebei province, Shijiazhuang, became the first person in the country to do something like this. Beijing, the capital of the People’s Republic of China, has also been greatly affected by the air pollution crisis as recently authorities have had to raise the pollution alert to the second highest “orange” danger level due to the fact that the city is surrounded by a thick smog.


Despite the authorities introducing several policies and vowing to fix the environmental problems in China, the problems are yet to be resolved, especially at the local level. However, at a larger level the situation is beginning to improve, for example Heibei province has promised to cut total steel capacity by 86 million tonnes by 2020, as the steel industry is a big source of air pollution in this area.




China Daily USA (2014) Chinese man becomes first to sue government over smog [online] Available at: [Accessed 25/02/2014]


Nielsen, Chris P. & Ho, Mun S., Air Pollution and Health Damages in China: An Introduction and Review [pdf] Available at: [Accessed 25/02/2014]


Phillips, Tom (2014) The Telegraph, Toxic smog threatens millions of Chinese lives [online] Available at: [Accessed 25/02/14]


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