Harbin China Chokes on Poisonous Smog

B. McPherson
Air pollution affects us all.
Harbin China is choking on thick, poisonous smog. The financial success of the PRC is exacting a heavy toll on its citizens. The northern Chinese city has been hit with early cold weather and city authorities have responded by ramping up electrical production. The source of energy to produce electricity is coal fired plants which spew pollution.

A perfect brew of conditions has served to create this health crisis. The cold weather necessitating a ramp up in coal burning, farmers burning off stubble in their fields, factories that ignore pollution guidelines, high humidity and a lack of wind have all contributed to the situation.

Visibility is down to only a few metres in the soupy air. According to the official Chinese news source, Xinhua, sight is limited to 100 metres or less, but in the pictures they show, visibility fades out within about 10 metres. People who venture onto the streets are attempting to filter some of the pollution out by using medical masks or pieces of clothing. Freeways have been shut down, schools have been closed and the international airport was forced to close for the duration.

Health of the citizens will be affected over the long term. Immediate effects will be irritation of the eyes, nose and bronchi from the chemicals and particulates in the air. More long term effects will include chronic respiratory diseases and cancers. The most dangerous particles in air pollution are not the tiny ones that people can see or that dirty clothing, they are the nanoparticles that sink into the lungs and either stay there or are gathered into the body to cause mischief in many areas.

The World Health Organization has set a safe level for these nanoparticles at a maximum of 25 per cubic metre of air. Instruments in Harbin are recording levels of 1000 per metre3 .

China’s major cities suffer from heavy air pollution, made worse in the colder months. Beijing has been coping with increasing smog in recent days as well. Government authorities have announced plans to cope with the growing crisis.

Air pollution has recently been named by WHO as a world crisis, constituting a health hazard as great as second hand cigarette smoke.

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