Air Pollution in Beijing Andrew Knox

In Beijing, China, it's not uncommon to see people walking around with dust masks, which one unfamiliar with the area might mistake for a surgeon's mask.

The reason is the smog in the air; collectively, smog in China kills 1.6 million people per year, or around 4,000 people per day. But why is it so bad?

The answer is the amount of coal plants and other factories in and around Beijing. These plants release into the air pollutants called PM 2.5.

PM 2.5 is a name for small particulate matter, either tiny particles or droplets, that are 2.5 microns or less in length. For reference, there are about 25,000 microns in an inch.

The average safe levels for PM 2.5 in the US per year are 15 micrograms per cubic meter of air. In Beijing, in 2015, the average was 80.4 micrograms per cubic meter of air. At 14:00 on Monday in China, the levels of PM 2.5 outside the US Embassy were 160 micrograms per cubic meter of air.

A History of Growth and Denial

Chinese officials have been focused on economic growth for an incredibly long time; since the media in China is state-controlled, pollution has been a forbidden topic up until recently. In 2010, Chinese media were in complete denial of any pollution, and it was taboo to mention.

Both depressingly and optimistically, Chinese officials have recently started a war on pollution. While it's great to see China clean up the air, the level of PM 2.5 in the air needed to create such smog and public health crisis is distressing.

1. How would you, as a member of society in Beijing, feel about your family, knowing they were subject to terrible air levels? How would you try to change this, given a state controlled media and national focus on growth?

2. If masks are created that completely take away the danger of any PM 2.5, is it worth it to focus on manufacturing and growth and ignore the smog that sets in in Beijing?

Works Cited:

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Andrew Knox


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