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.


D.K. Raed said...

Those pics are stunning! I guess no one learned anything from L.A. back before EPA standards? E.K. grew up in LA & remembers the non-play days at school, when the air pollution was considered unhealthful for children to be outside running around in.

China started from a pretty clean slate, not getting into the pollution biz until recently. They could've gone another route. I get the feeling the core issue is lack of concern for human life & health. Their sheer population numbers mean whatever they do is not confined to their own space. We'll all be breathing chinese air soon!

Dada said...

Some of these pics remind me of the first time I took my bride to visit my parents in L.A. in the very early 70's. On a ride to the heart of the city, the cityscape looked just like these pics and much of the time was spent choking back tears from the pollution.

But, as bad as it is, I think we should try to find something positive from the deadly airs of Beijing like, "Thank god all the cheap plastic crap we buy at Wal-Mart is made in China instead of Eugene, El Paso, or St. George!"

Fran said...

dk- I recall hearing about those "don't go outdoors, the air is too bad" warning reports in L.A. That brown thick soup air is very toxic. So I have to ask the question-- one would think that would be a part of the consideration for choosing an Olympic site... air quality. Between serious air quality issues, and Human Rights Violations, I have to wonder how they decided China was the best choice to host the Olympics?
Maybe the committee was drunk on lead/toxic fumes?
Although I do commend the pre trial & Olympic venues for trying to clear the air, it is also a sad situation, that post event, they will resume polluting. Now back to our regularly scheduled toxins...

Nice try on the positive spin Dada... I think it is a "what comes around goes around" in dealing with the planet we call home. That NASA picture tells the story of how uncontained said pollution really is.

How about that Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection? Those pictures are officially declared "slight pollution". The Government says everything is A-OK ~
Let the Games Begin! Cough Cough.....

DivaJood said...

When I was in Hong Kong in March, the wind was blowing south from Beijing - meaning all that pollution was covering Hong Kong. We could not see anything. Eyes stung. Coughing ensued. It was grim.

Unknown said...

Fran, I am putting this up at Sirens ok? Its simply wonderful and spot-on.

Anonymous said...

Ohh Diva! Hard to plan safe air travel based on which way the wind blows~ Eh?

Dusty~ Sho nuff.... much obliged.

Dada said...

Fran: Oh hell, sigh, what's the use? I tried to put a positive spin on this. So much for my Zen lessons. And 15-20 years later, my New Age stuff is turning Old Age I suppose. Oh well.

I suppose I should be thanking you for sobering me up. Hell with the positive spin stuff!

Fran said...

No Dada-- positive spins are good-- I try to find the sliver lining- because otherwise things would be pretty damned depressing....
but this China pollution scene, saturated toxins-- just like that of our country-- cause Bushco sez let's deal with emissions in 13 years, is *NGE* not good enough.
The spin people did a good job of selling the idea that global warming is a *questionable theory*, and a scientific debate.... rather than solid truth & science. They would have us debate, drill & banter while the planet melts down & species go extinct. Animals are smart enough to know not to foul their own habitat..... people should take a cue from them.