Fresh Air Goes on Sale

As Beijing residents are once again advised to stay indoors amid choking air pollution, some environmentalists are pessimistic about the possibilities for a thorough clean-up. From Bloomberg:

“I haven’t seen the smog stay so long like this for years,” a 40-year-old woman who only gave her last name, Zhou, said after buying two air purifiers for more than 13,000 yuan($2,000) each in downtown Beijing. “This seems to be the only solution for us. You used to just open the windows to get fresh air at home, but now you can’t do that since it’s even dirtier outside.”

[...] Official measurements of PM2.5 rose to 993 in Beijing on Jan. 12. The city has proposed rules to scrap old vehicles, ban new cement and steel factories, and impose fines for roadside vendors barbecuing food on smoggy days.

Further measures to clean up the capital may be difficult because much of Beijing’s smog comes from surrounding regions, Ma Jun, a Beijing-based environmentalist and founder of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, said in a phone interview.

“China is the world’s biggest steel producer, and half of China’s steel is produced in areas around Beijing such as Hebei and Tianjin, mostly by burning coal,” Ma said. “How can the region stand this?”

People with an entrepreneurial spirit have started to make money by selling fresh air in cans. From John Garnaut at The Sydney Morning Herald:

Chen Guangbiao, whose wealth is valued at $740 million according to the Hurun Report, sells his cans of air for five yuan each.

It comes with atmospheric flavours including pristine Tibet, post-industrial Taiwan and revolutionary Yan’an, the Communist Party’s early base area.

Mr Chen told Fairfax Media he wanted to make a point that China’s air was turning so bad that the idea of bottled fresh air is no longer fanciful.

“If we don’t start caring for the environment then after 20 or 30 years our children and grandchildren might be wearing gas masks and carry oxygen tanks,” said Mr Chen.

James Fallows at The Atlantic notices a less humorous related phenomena: birth defects and cognitive disorders related to the heavy pollution:

Some related notes that have come in, about a problem increasingly recognized inside China as a national emergency. From a reader in the United States:

“[...A]long with the disappearance of children with no identified medical needs, we have seen a huge increase in the number of children with identified medical needs.  Every month, I place children (from 9 months to 14 years) who have cleft lip and/or cleft palate; missing fingers, hands, toes, parts of arms or legs; malformed internal organs; genetic disorders; etc. ”

[...] From another reader, this link to an article on the possible relationship between certain forms of pollution and autism. And from a technically trained reader who has been living and working in China:

“It is not hard to believe, if the vegetables they ate spent the entire season grown in soil and air laden with heavy metals, the water they drank is contaminated with metals and VOCs [Volatile Organic Compounds], and the air the breath is full of PM2.5 dust which can pass through the alveoli sacs into the blood stream, and through the blood/brain barrier, directly into their growing brains.  Certainly, we are aware of how heavy metals retard brain development…”

See more on air pollution via CDT.