Today’s Forecast in China: Smog with a Chance of Inhaling Harmful Pollutants that Cause Illness

BY JOSH FERGUSON — On March 27, 2014, the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection announced that 71 out of 74 Chinese cities failed to meet minimum air quality standards over the previous year.[1] To make matters worse, a World Health Organization report from March 25, 2014 stated that over 40 percent of the 7 million people killed because of poor air quality came from Asia.[2] These negative reports and statistics on air quality are highlighting the already known perils of Chinese life in a polluted environment. While many have seen the images of great smog hovering over Chinese cities and Chinese pedestrians wearing masks in the streets, to actually substantiate the harm and severity of the air pollution crisis is bringing much needed worldwide attention to this critical issue.

One of the most worrisome air pollutants in China is the fine air particulates that have a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers (“P2.5”).[3] These small particulates can very easily be inhaled and cause serious respiratory and lung ailments.[4] The U.S. Embassy in China examines Chinese air quality daily by measuring the (P2.5) in micrograms per cubic meter and converts that data into an air quality index (AQI).[5] On March 30, 2014, in Shanghai, the concentration of (P2.5) was determined to be 93 micrograms per cubic meter with an AQI at 177.[6] An AQI at that level is classified as unhealthy and with health concerns of “[i]ncreased aggravation of heart or lung disease and premature mortality in persons with cardiopulmonary disease and the elderly; increased respiratory effects in general population.”[7]

To curtail the growing concern of air pollution in China, the Chinese Government has begun to implement incentives in trying to improve air quality. In February 2014, the Chinese Government announced an initiative to disperse out money, equivalent to $1.65 billion dollars, to Chinese cities and regions that make great strides in improving air quality.[8] While policy incentives are a good first step in trying to fight air pollution, it is still proving difficult to make a significant impact. Chinese companies and self interest groups have such great influence on government officials and environmental policies that they are hindering the significant change needed to alleviate air pollution problems.[9]

The Chinese companies position to forego environmental reform and regulation are only strengthened by American reliance on Chinese manufacturing.  With the United States and Europe greatly relying on cheaper Chinese manufacturing for exported products, it is greatly contributing to high amounts of greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution in China.[10] Chinese air pollution is becoming so rampant that it is crossing over the Pacific Ocean and affecting air quality on the West Coast of the United States.[11] China’s air quality problem is slowly becoming a global problem. The United States needs to put economic pressure on China to make serious environmental reforms, but is this really feasible with American businesses and citizens reaping the benefits of inexpensive Chinese manufacturing? Powerful American corporations, using their lobbying influence against any possible threat to cheap manufacturing, would prospectively inhibit any serious United State economic pressure against China.

It was not until the 1948 Donora Smog that the United States started to seriously discuss and implement environmental policies to improve air quality.[12] Hopefully, it will not take an air pollution disaster to invoke environmental reforms in China.







[7] Id.


[9] Id. See also


[11] Id.


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