In China’s Polluted Cities, the Smog May Be Here to Stay

State media said the PM 2.5 reading (which measures the level of harmful particulate matter in the air) “exceeded” 500. A Reuters report put the figure at 1000, or 40 times higher than what the World Health Organization deems safe. Photographs from the city show air so murky it would be easy to mistake Monday morning for deep, dark night.

As my colleague Emily Rauhala wrote earlier today, the northeastern Chinese city of Harbin, close to the border with Russia, is suffering through some truly horrible air pollution. And given that this is mainland China — home to some of the most polluted cities in the world — that’s saying something:


The intensification of the smog has to do with weather — as temperatures dip in more northern cities like Harbin, the coal plants that provide most of China’s energy and heat kick into overdrive. (It doesn’t help that in 1950, the Chinese government declared that everyone who lived north of China’s Huai River and Qinling Mountains — which includes major cities like Harbin, Shenyang and Beijing — could receive coal-powered heating for free.) The pollution was so bad that the police had to close off highways and the provincial airport because of accidents, while admissions into Harbin’s hospital spiked because of patients with breathing problems.

None of this is new. Anyone who has spent even a short time in China’s major cities knows the air quality on many days is often worse than the worst you might experience in European or American cities. I got my start as an environment writer almost 10 years ago covering the worsening air pollution in Hong Kong, which was mostly due to emissions from cars, coal plants and factories across the border in China’s bustling Guangdong province. Along with glass-covered skyscrapers and hellish traffic, smog has been the most visible manifestation of the startling economic growth China has experienced over the past quarter-century.


Complete text linked here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *