Chart Of The Week: China’s Pollution Crisis Is Worse Than Living In A Smoking Lounge

So it turns out that burning nearly as much coal as the rest of the world combined is not good for public health.

“Beijing’s daily peak and average concentrations of PM2.5, the airborne particulate matter that raises risks for lung and heart diseases, as measured by the U.S. Embassy. The 2013 daily average was 194 micrograms per cubic meter, with an intraday peak of 886 on Jan. 12, the data show. By contrast, PM2.5 levels averaged 166.6 in 16 airport smoking lounges in the U.S.” (Via Bloomberg)

Significantly, though, as one Brigham Young University professor points out, “Unlike cigarette smoking, exposure to ambient air pollution is involuntary and ubiquitously effects entire populations.”

And that reminds me of the line from the Hitchock-esque movie, Diabolique, where a man says to the femme fatale as she lights up a cigarette, “Second-hand smoke kills, you know.” Blowing smoke in his face, she (Sharon Stone, of course) replies, “Not reliably.”

Living in Beijing kills far more reliably. Indeed, during the peak pollution weekend, “the number of emergency room patients with heart attacks roughly doubled” at one hospital.

A World Bank study performed with China’s national environmental agency, concluded “outdoor air pollution was already causing 350,000 to 400,000 premature deaths a year. Indoor pollution contributed to the deaths of an additional 300,000 people, while 60,000 died from diarrhea, bladder and stomach cancer and other diseases that can be caused by water-borne pollution.”

And that was in 2007! One can only imagine what the deaths from pollution in China are now that it burns 40% more coal than it did 6 years ago

13 Responses to Chart Of The Week: China’s Pollution Crisis Is Worse Than Living In A Smoking Lounge

  1. Aldous says:

    Hundreds of thousands of cars sit in endless traffic jams, engines idling, occupants breathing and dying from the the fumes of progress.

  2. catman306 says:

    I worked in a rust-belt-city steel plant in the ’70s and I’ll testify that coal and coke (its charcoal-like equivalent) are the nastiest fuels available to common people. Nasty to breath. Nasty to smell. Nasty to be downwind, even 10 miles away.

    Stop burning it.

  3. M Tucker says:

    In 1952 Dr. Arie Haagen-Smit discovered the nature and causes of photochemical smog. He determines that nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons in the presence of ultraviolet radiation from the sun forms smog (a key component of which is ozone). Los Angeles had already recognized the problem in the late 1940’s but it took until 1961 until the first emissions control for autos was mandated in California. Then we all have heard of London’s great smog of 1952. Then Tokyo in the early afternoon of Dec 24, 1964 experienced a sky so dark drivers had to turn on their headlights. And so it goes… Los Angeles still has polluted air and now China experiences widespread air pollution, just part of the immense waste stream from modern human civilization. No end in sight even if the sky clears.

  4. Sailesh Rao says:

    Perhaps, we have to thank China for taking one for the team. That pollution contains aerosols that are limiting our climate change.

  5. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I would say that the Chinese will solve this ghastly problem pretty soon, as that is their record. Of course they are taking a great gamble, that their industrial and economic growth will not irreversibly damage the ecology of their country and the planet before they have sufficient wealth and technology to reverse the situation. What is worse, of course, is that China and India (less likely, unfortunately) cleaning up their acts and reducing the ‘global dimming’ of their ‘brown hazes’, will release another degree or so of average global temperature rise.

  6. idunno says:

    Hi Joe,

    Occasionally, the Guardian will publish articles translated into Chinese.

    I’d suggest that this is an article that might benefit from being similarly translated into Chinese. There ain’t much that us gweilo can do about Chinese policy; and there ain’t much that Chinese activists can publish.

    Clearly an opportunity exists for CP to exploit this gap in the Chinese market. I’m guessing that there are some Chinese translators out there looking for work somewhere near your zip code.

  7. David Moore says:

    It seems that the US govt and industry should offer free sulfur dioxide control equipment to China in return for a promise to reduce coal expansion plans. Plan B would be a boycott of Chinese goods. NO US COAL EXPORTS TO ASIA.

  8. David B. Benson says:

    The equipment for SO2 scrubbing looks quite expensive:

  9. Joan Savage says:

    The high sulfur content of the Chinese coal has to be part of the health problems there, as burning it contributes to acid rain.

    US EPA on acid rain:

    Acid rain looks, feels, and tastes just like clean rain. The harm to people from acid rain is not direct. Walking in acid rain, or even swimming in an acid lake, is no more dangerous than walking or swimming in clean water. However, the pollutants that cause acid rain—sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx)—do damage human health. These gases interact in the atmosphere to form fine sulfate and nitrate particles that can be transported long distances by winds and inhaled deep into people’s lungs. Fine particles can also penetrate indoors. Many scientific studies have identified a relationship between elevated levels of fine particles and increased illness and premature death from heart and lung disorders, such as asthma and bronchitis.

    Based on health concerns, SO2 and NOx have historically been regulated under the Clean Air Act, including the Acid Rain Program. In the eastern U.S., sulfate aerosols make up about 25 percent of fine particles. By lowering SO2 and NOx emissions from power generation, the Acid Rain Program will reduce the levels of fine sulfate and nitrate particles and so reduce the incidence and the severity of these health problems. When fully implemented by the year 2010, the public health benefits of the Acid Rain Program are estimated to be valued at $50 billion annually, due to decreased mortality, hospital admissions, and emergency room visits.

    Decreases in NOx emissions are also expected to have a beneficial impact on human health by reducing the nitrogen oxides available to react with volatile organic compounds and form ozone. Ozone impacts on human health include a number of morbidity and mortality risks associated with lung inflammation, including asthma and emphysema

  10. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I think that a global trade war is just what we need right now, and I’m sure the Chinese will just be good little ‘Asiatics’ and sit there, take their medicine and never think of retaliating by, say, selling off all their US Treasury notes, with, shall we say, unfortunate consequences.

  11. fj says:

    What a fine mess the fossil fuel industry has gotten us into with rampant corruption and devastation of the environment clearly demonstrated by China’s environmental garbage pit and Australia’s collapse of the future.

  12. Dennis Tomlinson says:

    A Greek Tragedy starring Laurel and Hardy.

  13. Beth says:

    And this smoggy environment is what the republicons want to do to this country. No protections because they don’t need the EPA, they can pollute easier without the watchdog agency. We had this kind of pollution years and years ago, and then we got some protections from the govt. and we got cleaner air. We got cleaner water, safer food. We can’t allow the congress creeps to take us back there…