Millions of people in China are breathing a hazardous cocktail of chemicals every day. These chemicals are caused by coal-fired power plants, factories and vehicles, and are responsible for heart disease, stroke, respiratory illnesses, birth defects and cancer.
Of particular concern is PM2.5 (particles with an aerodynamic diameter less than 2.5 μm) air pollution. In Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Xi’an, PM2.5 concentration levels in all four cities exceed World Heath Organisation (WHO) air quality guidelines. This means higher health risks to the cardiovascular system, cerebrovascular system and an increase in the probability of cancer and premature death.
According to Voice Of America, President Xi Jinping said that China will increase environmental inspections and punish polluters: “China will increase environmental inspections and punish polluters accordingly to ensure the environment improves”
“The goal of achieving an ecological civilization is a key part of China’s overall development strategy, and governments at all levels should remember that clear waters and green mountains are invaluable assets,” Xi said, in comments reported by the official Xinhua news agency late Friday.
The impacts of air pollution
Air pollution often has long-term health impacts that build-up slowly over time. It may also cause non-specific problems, such as weakened immunity. As such, it is often easy to overlook the health impacts of air pollution. That’s why public education and outreach on the issue of air pollution is highly important.
Air pollution has been linked to increased incidences of cancer, heart disease, stroke and respiratory illnesses. On a less severe level, it is associated with asthma in children, and thus impaired quality of life for many kids.
In China, with a booming economy and ever-increasing demand for energy, China built new coal-fired power plants at an astonishing rate. Today, coal provides around 60% of China’s electricity and the lion’s share of its air pollutants, from soot to sulphur dioxide.
While cars and trucks also contribute to air pollution in cities, it will be impossible to improve air quality in China without moving away from coal.
Coal burning is the biggest contributor of air pollution in Beijing and surrounding area, according to a University of Leeds study sponsored by Greenpeace East Asia. Previous studies have linked outdoor air pollution to premature deaths and child asthma in the industry-intensive region which arguably has the worst air quality in China.
China simply cannot afford to allow air pollution to continue taking such a heavy toll. The country’s rapid growth in coal consumption before 2014 was brought on by extensive industrial expansion, which in turn, has increased pressure on the environment and public health conditions. In order to turn around the deteriorating air conditions, China must fundamentally change its development model, starting with a significant reduction in coal consumption.