Beijing Chokes on Air Pollution

B. McPherson
Is this the future?
Residents of Beijing are choking on smog. The miasma is spreading. According to Xinhua News now 50 more cities are reporting high levels of air pollution. Eleven of those come up as “severely polluted”. The smog currently covers 980 000 square kilometres of land. Authorities are hoping for a change in weather to sweep the air pollution out to sea.

While Chinese health authorities have set the pollution danger at the second highest level, the World Health Organization(WHO), has a different take on the problem. On Sunday the levels of fine particulates in the heart of the city measured 198 micrograms per cubic metre. WHO sets a safe maximum at 25 micrograms per cubic metre.

Authorities have initiated a ban on outdoor barbeques and fireworks. It is unlikely that they are the chief polluters in that country. Coal fired electrical plants, steel works, chemical works and cement production are all big contributors to atmospheric pollutants.

While the larger particles like soot are obvious and annoying, they are nowhere as dangerous as the fine particulate matter(PM2.5). These particles are taken deep into the lungs with each breath and are able to pass the body’s defenses to enter the blood stream to cause mischief anywhere in the body.

People have been advised to stay indoors if they are infirm or very young, to wear masks when venturing outside. It may well be a fool’s errand because there is little that is capable of filtering out PM2.5, including home air filtration systems.

The PRC is paying a high price for its rapid industrialization without environmental controls. Air pollution, water pollution, and sometime sketchy food have become too commonplace. An example of a major city vulnerable to water pollution is Shanghai, which suffered through the dead pigs floating in its water supply. Now it is suffering from massive salt intrusion from the Pacific. The Yangtze River which supplies much of the city’s water is running very low.

Chen Guoguang, senior engineer of Water Supply Distribution & Monitoring Center, said, "Together with the previous two salt tides, the intrusion this time is causing huge harm to our water safety. The whole process isn't expected to end until early next month."Zinhua

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