Beijing under red alert
China is the world’s heaviest polluter, partly because of its heavy dependence on coal. The manufacture of cement also contributes particulate matter as well as copious amounts of carbon dioxide to the air. Other areas in the northeast are suffering with poor air quality as well. Harbin, the capital of Heilonjiang Province is enclosed in smog.
A traveller’s account of landing in Beijing and proceeding to the airport terminal illustrates the pervasive nature of the Chinese smog.
It can be so intense that inside visibility is reduced to a few dozen meters. It is a sensation unlike any other, which gives a traveler the sense of impending suffocation or drowning. Forex TV
At the climate conference in Paris, the Chinese delegates have vowed to start reducing their carbon footprint by 2030. In the meantime massive amounts of particulate matter and noxious gases are entering the shared atmosphere.
Residents of Beijing and the north east part of China have had their first air pollution crisis of the winter ease with a cold front moving through the area. The new cold weather and winds has swept some of the filthy air out over the Pacific.
N. America will receive a blast of coal generated pollution from Asia in a few days.
The Chinese national observatory reduced the smog warning from yellow alert(second highest). Their alert levels are instituted at levels different from those recommended by the World Health Organization for air pollution. WHO recommends that exposure to the very tiny particles in pollution – those 2.5 microns or smaller – be limited to an average of 10 micrograms per cubic metre. Beijing issues air pollution alerts when pollution levels reach 35 micrograms per cubic metre.
"Increases in risk are apparent in the city with the next-lowest long-term PM2.5 mean (i.e. 14.9 µg/m3 ), indicating that health effects can be expected when annual mean concentrations are in the range of 11–15 µg/m3" . WHO
Over the past week Beijing residents have been exposed to an average of 190 micrograms of the harmful tiny particles. Beijing is not the hardest hit area. Northeast of the capital, Shenyang has recorded as much as 1400 micrograms per cubic metre.
The government agencies responsible for health have advised that the very young and very old stay inside as much as possible and that people wear face masks when venturing outside. Unfortunately the 2.5 micron or less sized particles are not filtered out by ordinary gauze masks.
The air pollution is made worse as the winter progresses. China’s leading source of energy is coal. While the laws mandate pollution controls on stacks, it often is not done or enforced.
Air pollution can initiate or make worse heart disease, stroke and cancers. In addition to the air pollution that China is wrestling with, an estimated 60% of the country’s aquifers are polluted and unsafe. Some sources estimate that air pollution kills about 4000 Chinese every day.
Many countries have become addicted to coal for industrial purposes. Some are moving away from that fossil fuel to using shale gas. Another source of energy is nuclear. Neither is without serious environmental problems.
World Health Organization
Further, sales of diesel vehicles which may have had doped software have been suspended in Canada and the US.
"Volkswagen Canada has issued a stop-sale order to our dealers for all of the affected vehicles pending resolution of this matter," company spokesman Thomas Tetzlaff" - CBC News
The affected vehicles that may be affected are as old as 2009 models. The 2015 models are also affected. Included are VW models Jetta, Golf, Beetle, Passat and Sportswagon. About one fifth of VWs sales in Canada are diesels.
Both environmental protection agencies in Canada and the US have stressed that the vehicles in question are not unsafe to drive, but they are emitting unsafe levels of pollutants. One of diesel’s exhaust emissions is benzene, a carcinogen. Criminal investigations have begun.
The troubles for VW continue as law firms in both countries have already begun organizing class action suits.
The Guardian has reported that the whistleblower who broke the scandal has intimated that more firms may have been involved with spoofing the EPA results and that it’s time that they are also looked at critically.
[Wednesday update - Volkswagen chief executive Martin Winterkorn resigns]
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