Sunday, July 27, 2008
Putting on Airs
NASA Photo of China's Air Pollution as seen from space.
When we had the Olympic Track & Field trials here for 10 days last month, the municipality worked with surrounding grass seed farmers, and made an arrangement that there would be no field burning during that time, so as to support the athletes, to provide good quality air to breathe. A fine idea-- but why just for this showcase event? Are we to assume the people who live here year round are not worthy of breathing clean air?
After grass seed farmers harvest the seed, they then torch the remaining grass to clean & clear it for the next harvest. We could have a beautiful, blue sky, clear, sunny day & all of the sudden huge billowing clouds of black smoke come pouring across the sky.
A similar scenario is about to happen in China for the Olympics as well. China has some of the worst pollution on the planet. They will be shutting down factories, limiting car use, and have additional factories further away on standby to shut down, if need be to address air quality issues.
The UK Guardian reports:
"As it gears up to host the 2008 Olympic Games Beijing has been awarded an unwelcome new accolade: the air pollution capital of the world.
Satellite data has revealed that the city is one of the worst environmental victims of China's spectacular economic growth, which has brought with it air pollution levels that are blamed for more than 400,000 premature deaths a year.
According to the European Space Agency, Beijing and its neighbouring north-east Chinese provinces have the planet's worst levels of nitrogen dioxide, which can cause fatal damage to the lungs.
A recently published study, conducted by the Chinese Academy on Environmental Planning, blamed air pollution for 411,000 premature deaths - mostly from lung and heart-related diseases - in 2003. It said that a third of China's urban residents were exposed to harmful levels of pollution. More than 100 million people live in cities, such as Beijing, where the air is considered "very dangerous".
The political implications are also becoming more apparent. Health concerns, particularly regarding cancer and birth defects thought to be caused by chemical factories, have been a major factor in a recent wave of protests. Conservation groups say acid rain falls on a third of China's territory and 70% of rivers and lakes are so full of toxins they can no longer be used for drinking water."
The Wall Street Journal has posted a Beijing Air Pollution Widget, put out by the China Ministry of Environmental Protection. The photos above are 4 days after the air pollution restrictions were implemented.
There is some question as to the interpretation of the API , or air pollution index.
For example today's index was listed as 113, or according to the Ministry, slightly polluted.
The air quality titles used by the widget (based on chinese labels) are misleading. Anything above an API of 50 should be called unhealthy, as it would be (for example) a violation of the maximum allowable daily concentrations. And even an API below 50 is not necessarily safe. For example, just to get down to usual NYC levels (not an especially clean city), it would have to read API= 20 or below.
Note also, that, as the Chinese API goes above 50, the equivalent pollution PM10 concentrations go up twice as fast, so API=75 is double the pollution at API-50!
Some athletes are using masks to avoid breathing in the foul air. One team has opted to stay out of Beijing- missing the Opening ceremonies, and will only go to Beijing for their events. Other athletes are being offered masks, some are unsure if they would wear a mask in competition. A dubious honor, China is about to surpass the world's biggest polluter-- the USA.