Energy & Environment

Air pollution levels in China

Dan Farber

The Economist commissioned a study of particulate pollution in China, using estimates based on satellite data.  The results are predictably grim:

World Health Organisation guidelines suggest that PM2.5 levels above ten micrograms per cubic metre are unsafe. The boffins have found (as the map shows) that almost every Chinese province has levels above that. Indeed, much of the country’s population endures air so foul that it registers above 30 on the PM2.5 scale, with Shandong and Henan provinces topping 50. Because these readings reflect the average pollution that a typical resident in a province is likely to endure during a given year, they underplay the sharp spikes in pollution that are seen on particularly dirty days, when spot readings go much higher. That is why Beijingers should take little comfort from the fact that the capital’s pollution measures only 35.

For comparison purposes, the U.S. standard for average annual emissions 15, and the U.S. standard for 24 hour spikes is 35 μg/mg3.  Thus, much of the Chinese population experiences average daily pollution over twice what the U.S. allows, and at or above a level that the U.S. considers acceptable only for exceptional brief spikes. The spikes in China are presumably much worse.

PM 2.5 has serious health effects, including “increased respiratory symptoms, such as irritation of the airways, coughing, or difficulty breathing, for example; decreased lung function; aggravated asthma; development of chronic bronchitis; irregular heartbeat; nonfatal heart attacks; and premature death in people with heart or lung disease.”

Here is the map:

map of air pollution levels in China

Sources: Battelle Memorial Institute, Columbia University

Cross-posted from the environmental law and policy blog Legal Planet.

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Comments to "Air pollution levels in China":
    • Kevin A. Straight

      As an undergraduate I wrote a paper on the the problem of China’s particulate air pollution blowing over to create smog in California. I have it available here for those interested in the issue.

      [Report abuse]

    • Anthony St. John '63

      It must also be noted with regard to desertification, California is following in the footsteps of China, and Mesopotamia for that matter.

      So increasing air pollution is no surprise, been there before.

      Once again, our political and intellectual establishments just watch and do nothing more than maybe talk about it and write technical papers that are perpetually subject to further study at most, but ignoring the needs of future generations while failing to take the responsibility of providing leadership as long is life is good for the elected and anointed.

      Again, we keep proving that nothing ever changes as civilizations continue to come and go because as Stanford Professors Ornstein and Ehrlich concluded in the September October 2006 “Global Warning” issue of CALIFORNIA Magazine:

      “Although we are evolving, our mental machinery will not change biologically in time to help us solve our problems.”

      [Report abuse]

    • Obummer

      PM2.5 levels above ten micrograms per cubic metre are unsafe.”

      south berkeley spews out carbon minoxide at night, well above PM2.5 — and the community complains to deaf ears. So what is the message again?

      [Report abuse]

    • Anthony St. John '63

      The saddest reality is that California’s environmental problems are escalating out of control in spite of the reductions in California air pollution levels made in the last century.

      I refer you to the September October 2006 “Global Warning” issue
      of CALIFORNIA Magazine, including stories on:

      Extreme science by Michael Zielenziger
      Global warning-the hotspots by Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism California at risk, map by the Geographic Information Science Center
      Can We Adapt in Time? by Sandy Tolan

      Nothing much has really been done to prevent these environmental threats from exceeding tipping points since this issue was published.

      [Report abuse]

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