Hundreds of thousands of people in China are dying every year by breathing. Damaging air pollutants, with long-term health effects are hanging over residents as an internal reminder that air pollution in the country is at a critical stage.
Smog is not just a hazy type of fog considered an annoying weather condition, but something that poses a more sinister threat. Despite the fact that pictures of China’s smog paints a thousand words, the actual extent of how bad it really is has only come to light.
Well, under previous World Health Organisation (WHO) air quality guidelines, the Chinese government only provided data for what was measured as PM10 particles, particles that are smaller than 10 micrometres in diameter.
Smog, which is a form of air pollution consists of ‘fine’ particulate matter from industrial fumes, sulfur dioxide, vehicle engines and smoke, known as PM2.5. It’s these particles, which are spewed at an alarming rate, approximately 1/30 the width of a human hair that make up the familiar sight of the atmospheric haze, that aren’t recorded, and which are particularly dangerous.
So dangerous, in fact, that they can easily penetrate into a person’s bloodstream and lungs causing long-term health effects such as lung cancer, birth defects in children and breathing difficulties for those with asthma and respiratory problems.
After much criticism and public outcry, the government has said that it will publish more comprehensive air quality data on Beijing later this month after critics said the government underestimated the critical problem air pollution poses in the capital.
According to an announcement on the Beijing Government’s website, they plan to publish reports on the hour detailing the air quality using the PM2.5 gauge. Last year, and under PM10 data, Beijing is reported to have enjoyed 286 ‘blue sky days,’ listed under grade one or two out of five.
Surprisingly though, while air pollution in China claims the lives of more than 650,000 people each year, the air is considered far safer compared to that in U.S. cities. If that’s true, then what about the air we breathe in London? Is it safer compared to that as well?
I seriously, and hopefully, doubt this is the case even if London did report its first ‘high’ 8 nitrogen dioxide level earlier this month scoring a reading of 468 micrograms per cubic metre above the 400 umg-3 level. Previous index levels would have classed this as a 6.
But back to China’s smog blight.
In a bid to answer the public’s questions, a US Embassy in Beijing set up a Twitter feed, publishing hourly updates into the cities air quality – and it doesn’t paint a pretty picture. The updates, which use the PM2.5 gauge provide detailed insight into the hazardous nature of Beijing’s air quality, alarming residents who have seen the tweets.
While Twitter is blocked by the government, that hasn’t stopped some Chinese from accessing the reports and republishing the information.
Unsurprisingly, though, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said that such information provided by the U.S. has the potential to confuse and alarm the Chinese public with official Chinese results. Considering the Chinese government fails to release all the data for the public’s knowledge, it’s easy to see how the public would get confused. As such a heated exchanged between the two sides has continued, with the U.S. promising to keep updates on Twitter until the government takes steps to publish PM2.5 figures.
At the time of writing this post, the 2.5 air levels in Beijing are ‘very unhealthy’ with a reading of 227 micrograms per cubic metre. Hourly reports show that readings don’t change much between ‘very unhealthy’ or ‘hazardous’ and only drop down to ‘unhealthy for sensitive groups’ at night when the streets are less congested and the working day is over. Last month saw readings top the 500 mark before figures moved back down to 356, a category still dangerous to the public’s health.
As one of the most polluted country’s in the world China has a long way to go before its millions of residents can breath in air considered safe by EU standards. What will come as a shock to residents is that reports from the Atmospheric Physics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences suggest that PM2.5 particles have been following a worsening trend since 1998 in Beijing. A ray of light – however small – also suggests that PM10 particles have made preliminary achievements.
Of course, it’s only when the Chinese government reveal the full extent of the smog numbers that action can be taken to tackle the pollution. It’s quite surprising to see that as hard as the authorities try to hide it, the people of China can clearly see that they’re being covered in a sulphurous haze.