News / Asia

Pollution in China Goes 'Off the Charts'

A man wears a mask on Tiananmen Square in thick haze in Beijing Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013. Extremely high pollution levels shrouded eastern China for the second time in about two weeks.  (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
A man wears a mask on Tiananmen Square in thick haze in Beijing Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013. Extremely high pollution levels shrouded eastern China for the second time in about two weeks. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
TEXT SIZE - +
The stifling pollution currently plaguing much of northeastern China has reached levels so high it is beyond the measurements used in the U.S. to chart air quality.

“What Beijing is experiencing–and even worse in the provinces–is off the charts from anything we experience in the United States, and likely more than anything we’ve experienced in our country’s history,” said John Walke, the director of the Climate & Clean Air Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, a Washington, D.C.-based environmental group.

The U.S. measures air quality using a six-color scale indexed from 0-500. The higher the number, the greater and more dangerous the pollution. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 50 would represent good–or "code green"–air quality, while anything over 300 represents hazardous–or "code maroon"–air quality. 

The Environmental Protection Agency's air quality guide.The Environmental Protection Agency's air quality guide.
x
The Environmental Protection Agency's air quality guide.
The Environmental Protection Agency's air quality guide.
In the summer in Washington, D.C., for example, there may be several days during which pollution reaches 101-150. These are called “code orange” days, meaning the air is deemed unsafe for children and the elderly.

The next level, “code red,” goes from 151-200. Washington may experience a couple of these days in a summer, while a city notorious for poor quality air such as Los Angeles may have a dozen or so, according to Walke.

“The scale above 200 is so rare that we virtually never experience it,” said Walke. “It is deemed very unhealthy.”

Above 200 would be “code purple,” with pollution measuring 201-300; from 301-500 is called “code maroon.” These levels are only seen in the vicinity of large forest fires, Walke said.
 
On Tuesday, pollution in Beijing reached 517, a number that is considered “beyond index.”
 
This is according to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, which is considered the most reliable measurement of air pollution in the city. The embassy has reported pollution as high as 755 earlier this month.

Unsustainable

Higher air quality numbers indicate the presence of more small particles in the air, and Walke explained it’s the smallest particles, the 2.5 micrometer-sized pollution particles, that present the most danger.

“The particles are so small that they can penetrate into the heart, lungs and bloodstream,” he said. “They bypass the body’s natural defense systems and are linked to health ailments like heart attacks, strokes, bronchitis and asthma, chiefly among the elderly.”

According to Dominic Meagher, an economist with China Policy Institute in Beijing, the air quality levels have been hovering around 490 over the past two weeks.

“490 is very hazardous,” he said. “Children are kept indoors, elderly are kept indoors, and healthy people are recommended not to do any physical exercise. It’s not very pleasant.”
 
The smog was so bad in Zheijiang province that when a furniture factory caught fire earlier this month, the blaze burned for three hours before anyone noticed the smoke.

Indiana University professor Scott Kennedy reported from downtown Beijing that the smog was so bad he could not see the top of the tallest building in the city, the 300-meter World Trade Center Tower III.  He added that he could only see about a block and a half down the street.

The Chinese government has shut down over 100 polluting factories and taken a third of all government vehicles off the road, but pollution in Beijing has remained at dangerous levels.  According to Meagher, these kinds of temporary, “heavy-fisted” regulations are not a sustainable solution.  He said the government is going to have to consider longer and perhaps mandatory regulations to deal with a problem that is very much in the public eye.

“What they’re going to need to do is have a very frank debate about what their options are,” he said. “I imagine it’s going to include strict enforcement of standards on vehicles and factories.”

Meagher also said it would be crucial to get energy companies to increase efficiency standards, something he said they have been reluctant to do.

VOA's Victor Beattie contributed to this report.

You May Like

Multimedia Relatives of South Korean Ferry Victims Fire at Authorities

46 people are confirmed dead, but some 250 remain trapped inside sunken ferry More

War Legacy Haunts Vietnam, US Relations

$84 million project aims to clean up soil contaminated by Agent Orange More

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: thoriel th
January 31, 2013 7:00 PM
China has transformed itself into a smoky hell! all folks living here will all face death caused by lung failure, and all pollution-related diseases! Mercury, Lead, Arsenic in the polluted air in China also are the silent killers!


by: Thoriel D. Thallermann
January 31, 2013 6:57 PM
China is a chimney of the world today! All Chinese Lungs are pollution filters of their emitted black smoke! 1.4 billions lungs of 1.4 billions Chinese will be used to filter air pollution for their industry!
Whan can you do is to see Chinese lungs are going to be THE BLACK LUNGS! The worst thing in life is to breethe contaminated air! And in this case, millions of Chinese will end up in death caused by polluted air! while water in China is almost all well contaminated! and contaminated water used to grow vegetable, fruits, roots, rice and they absolutely have become contaminated foodstuffs for consumers to consume and dying slowly as definitely can be proven by statistics!
In essence, the price that Chinese people have to pay is too high!


by: dorji from: oregon
January 30, 2013 9:31 PM
China is a complete joke. Here is a slogan for the chinese, "one world, one dream - die from lung cancer." Welcome to Beijing, baby!


by: Paris Tun from: Myanmar
January 30, 2013 4:44 AM
Needless to say that good air quality is vital for the survival of our humanity. If the Chinese couldn't fix this problem in time, they will be the first one to collapse, not Egypt or Syria. I wonder, the Chinese are feeling, like they are in a war zone because they couldn't even get their basis rights to breathe well.
It is time to think seriously about "Sustainable Development" and make sure that we truly know what it means. If we fail to do so, we will all be chocked to death by the pollution.


by: Craig D from: Chicago
January 30, 2013 12:38 AM
More coal plants anyone?


by: michael wind from: florida
January 29, 2013 7:01 PM
this pollution soon will be everywhere.

In Response

by: Sun from: Taipei
January 30, 2013 3:38 AM
Yes, this is another problem posed by Communist Chinese. They don't consider another person's concern. Let's wait until Chinese bubble economy collapses and then this kind of air pollution is stopped.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid