Friday, April 26, 2013

Chinese Air Pollution and Public Health

                      Since January, the world press has been forced to acknowledge that urban air quality in China is no longer a red herring issue of economic growth, but a national and international public health menace.  Japanese researchers are looking into potential effects of pollution from China on old arboreal forests in Japan. The long-term costs won't be known for decades, when it may be possible to publish results long term studies of effects on coronary and pulmonary health and mortality.  Children, like the little girl in the photo, who are growing up exposed to the toxic soup would be ideal study candidates.
"Let’s start with the gloom. China’s air quality is already dismal, thanks to an ever-growing number of coal-fired power plants, factories and automobiles. The annual average levels of small particulate pollution, PM2.5, in cities is at 75 micrograms per cubic meter, three times as high as what the World Health Organization considers safe. (And that’s an average — in January, Beijing’s pollution levels soared past 900 µg/m3.)"  Source: Washington Post
It's macabre to think that the U.S. Embassy sensors in Beijing only go up to a maximum of  500 µg/m3, a level that would have been viewed as unthinkable.  Middle class Chinese executives and professionals are already sending their children out of the country to private schools abroad to spare them from the air pollution scourge. The parents are soon following when they can work out visa arrangements for the U.S. and Europe. Expatriates are turning down Chinese assignments because of the public health concerns for their families.  

Organizations like Greenpeace, which get exercised about minutiae and non-problems in the U.S., are totally neutered pussy cats in China, where they should be shouting from the roof tops.  India's legendary air quality in Calcutta and Delhi puts it in China's club. It's only a matter of relative sizes of the economies as to how bad both economies are in terms of contributing to global pollution and public health problems.  

What's being done?  Nothing of any import or substance.  Believe it or not, there is a Chinese "cash for clunkers" program.  Public health issues are simply not in the economic calculus of China's national leaders and the system of inefficient public companies and favored enterprises which together have generated the enviable GDP growth and burgeoning reserve balances.  Greenpeace and others await the publication of Chinese CAFE standards for automobiles.  

It's a shame because the Chinese citizenry both in cities and in the countryside deserve so much better from their leaders.  

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