It’s being called the “Airpocalypse.” The pollution in the eastern part of China and particularly in Beijing, the capital, is the worst the country has experienced in recent memory, if not ever.
As of Monday, the air had been classified as hazardous to human health for a fifth consecutive day, with the city of Beijing covered in a thick layer of brown smog, reducing visibility to just 200 meters. Pollution levels are 25 times greater than those considered safe in the U.S.
In fact, the air quality is so bad that a fire at a furniture factory burned unnoticed for three hours.
From Voice of America:
A factory fire in eastern China raged out of control unnoticed for hours Monday, after local residents were unable to distinguish the smoke from the dense smog that has filled the region.
The official Xinhua news agency says the furniture factory in Zheijiang province burned for nearly three hours before residents noticed the blaze. It took 10 hours to extinguish the flames, which destroyed a large amount of furniture.
If you want still more proof of just how dire the situation is, check out these images from NASA’s Earth Observatory satellite Terra, which show the choking layer of smog that has descended over Beijing.
And read all the details, from CBS:
PM2.5 measurements are taken on a scale from 0 to 500. Over the weekend of Jan 12-13, Beijing saw levels over 700.
By Monday, levels had declined to about 350 micrograms on the Beijing government scale — down from its peak but still way above the level of 25 considered safe by the World Health Organization.
PM2.5 are tiny particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in size, or about 1/30th the average width of a human hair. They can penetrate deep into the lungs, and measuring them is considered a more accurate reflection of air quality than other methods.
Breathing in this air is taking its toll: the Beijing Shijitan Hospital reported treating 20 percent more patients than usual at its respiratory health department. Most of them were coughing and sought treatment for various respiratory illnesses. In addition, official media reports that Beijing’s main children’s hospital has recently seen 9,000 patients per day, a third of them with respiratory diseases.
With thousands of new cars on the road every year, numerous coal-fired power stations, a cold snap that is driving the air pollution to accumulate on the ground, and a basic disregard for environmental laws, China is choking on its own development. One positive aspect is that the government is taking notice, unlike in previous years: they are monitoring pollution levels, shutting down some building sites and polluting factories temporarily, and taking almost a third of official cars off the road.
As Care2 reported last year, China’s use of coal has exploded over the last few decades. Since 1980, coal consumption in China has grown 500%, and now represents three quarters of consumption in Asia. That has coincided with a five-fold increase of lung cancer since 1970, now the leading cause of death in China. (Of course, an increase in smoking is also a huge contributor.)
China is experiencing the kind of air quality that used to be prevalent in western countries. In December 1952, a toxic mix of dense fog and sooty black coal smoke killed thousands of Londoners in four days. It is still the deadliest environmental event in recorded history.
Before this episode, people in cities tended to accept pollution as a necessary part of life. Since then, they have worked, and are still working, to limit the poisonous side effects of the industrial age.
Will China have to experience a similar catastrophe before it takes definitive action on pollution?
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Photo Credit: kevin dooley