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)
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

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book 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.
Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festivali
X
April 24, 2015 4:09 AM
Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Keeping Washington Airspace Safe Is Tall Order

Being the home of all three branches of the U.S. federal government makes Washington, D.C. the prime target for those who want to make their messages and ideas heard. Unfortunately, many of them choose to deliver them in unorthodox ways, including from the air, as a recent incident clearly showed involving a gyrocopter landing on the Capitol’s West Lawn. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video Hope, Prayer Enter Fight Against S. Africa Xenophobia

South Africa has been swept by disturbing attacks on foreign nationals. Some blame the attacks on a legacy of colonialism, while others say the economy is to blame. Whatever the cause, ordinary South Africans - and South African residents from around the world - say they're praying for the siege of violence to end. Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.

VOA Blogs