Pollution Problems: China's Declining Air Quality & Health Hazards
The reduction of the quality of air in China is becoming an enormous problem that creates huge health risks for anyone who must breathe it. While China has had a long standing problem with pollution since the country began to industrialize, a particularly harmful source of pollution has been found; the burning of coal. Regions in China north of the Huai River give coal to their citizens to burn for heat, and this has created massive amounts of pollution and an incredible reduction in air quality significantly shortening life spans and increasing the risk of several illness, including lung cancer.
Measuring the Quality of Air and Pollution in China
Particles with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers, or fine particles, are considered to be the most dangerous airborne particles. Particles of this size can freely enter the bloodstream and run unchecked throughout the body. Measuring the concentration of these particles is done through a standard known as the Air Quality Index (AIQ). The AIQ measures concentrations of these fine particles, and assigns health risks and danger levels to certain amounts. The scale of the AIQ runs from 0 – 500, though it is possible to have a higher level of pollutants. Anything under 50 on the scale is considered good air, and has little or no hazard. 500 on the other hand, is considered very hazardous. When the AIQ formula was used to calculate the quality of the air in the Harbin region of China, the particulate concentration was found to be nearly 1,000. This is double what the AIQ indicates as extremely hazardous, and has led to untold health risks unlike anything seen in the western world. Air quality screening began in January of 2012 in China, though it has been known since 2007 that China is home to 16 of the world’s most polluted cities. Little to no effort has been made to reduce the pollutants and improve air quality for China’s residents.
The Cause of Pollution and the Health Risks
The largest source of pollution in China is the burning of coal. While Northern China issues free coal to its residents for burning, it should be noted that the entire country uses coal excessively. China is the world leader in coal use. Because of this, they also lead the world in the carbon dioxide emissions that result from the burning of this amount of coal. The result of this is an air pollution air increase of 55% and a reduction of life expectancy by 5.5 years. Alarming health consequences result from the amount of pollution. Although smoking of cigarettes, cigars and pipes has been reduced in recent years, China has actually seen a 56% increase of lung cancer risk over the past 10 years. In 2010, 1.2 million premature deaths were attributed to pollution. China is responsible for nearly half of all deaths attributed to poor air quality. It is predicted that by 2050, the leading cause of environmental death will be air pollution. For China and India, the implication is particularly grim, with 3.6 million deaths from air pollution expected in each upcoming year. The knowledge of air pollution in China must be spread, and awareness raised. Only then will there different, cleaner fuel sources be considered and more effort put into creating cleaner indoor air.