City Air Harmful for Another 20-30 Years

While China’s air pollution carries heavy costs for its economy and public health, a leading expert has warned that there will be no quick recovery. From Jonathan Watts at The Guardian:

The cautionary note comes at the start of a year when Beijing, Shanghai and several other Chinese metropolises will begin publicly releasing data on tiny particulates known as PM2.5, which account for more than half of the country’s air-borne contaminants and have the most damaging impact on human health.

The promise of more transparency has been welcomed as an important step towards a clear-up of the foul smogs that plague urban China, but environment officials stress that more time is needed to turn grey skies to blue.

“It took the US and Europe 50 years to deal with their problem. Even if we cut that [PM2.5] in half, it will still take 20 to 30 years,” said Wu Dui, a haze expert at the Guangdong Meteorological Agency.

China Daily, meanwhile, reports promises of improvement from the government of Lanzhou, whose air was rated China’s worst by the World Health Organisation last year.

In winter, the most polluted season, Lanzhou is typically shrouded in a haze that can block sunlight to the extent that the day is sometimes as dark as the night. Residents generally avoid opening windows, otherwise their furniture will soon be coated in thick dust.

Wang Sanyun, the newly-appointed top official of Gansu province, said that his government “is resolved to win the tough and arduous battle against air pollution.”

Wang, secretary of the Gansu provincial committee of the Communist Party of China, told provincial officials Thursday that the government will go after factories releasing pollutants, promote clean energy in public transport, build subways and light rails to reduce car exhaust emissions, and replace coal with natural gas to sustain the city’s winter heating system.

Due to an urbanization rush, most cities in China face tremendous challenges in keeping air pollution in check. Only one in the 31 Chinese cities included in the WHO survey had PM10 levels under 50 micrograms per cubic meter, while the vast majority of European and North American cities reported PM10 levels under 50 micrograms per cubic meter.

The WHO’s recommended maximum is 20 micrograms per cubic meter, according to the article. Lanzhou’s air was found to contain an average of 150 micrograms per cubic meter, though this did not deter the more than 10,000 people who burrowed through it during a “fun run” this week.

January 4, 2012 7:50 PM
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