The Beijing Smog
The BBC news has claimed, “Pollution has soared to hazardous levels in Beijing, reaching 20 times the limit recommended by the World Health Organization” (Beijing Smog Hits Hazardous Levels 2). As the heavy pollution in Beijing has reached unprecedented levels, it is worth our concern. The terrible smog in Beijing is lethal to the health of Beijing citizens and affects their quality of life. The two major causes of the smog in Beijing are inefficiency in factories’ coal usage and vehicle emissions. Based on these main causes, we figured out some possible solutions to improve this abominable situation.
Human activities have been the major cause of Beijing smog. As an old industrial city, Beijing is surrounded by industrial facilities, such as The Beijing Capital Iron & Steel Factory (BCISF) in west Beijing, as well as by many industrial power plants which rely on coal-burning in the neighboring regions. “Burning coal releases toxins. Coal contains sulfur and other elements, including dangerous metals such as mercury, lead, and arsenic that escape into the air when coal is burned” (Spooner). Typical pollutants are nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SO2), particulate matter and heavy metal such as lead and mercury. NOx pollution generates ozone at ground-level, which results in smog. Particulate matter are particles that suspend in the air; they result in haze that obstruct visibility. While industrial facilities generate those pollutants, they also come from vehicle exhaust. According to an annual statistical report on the number of Beijing vehicles, the number of Registered Automobiles per 10,000 people has increased from 100 in 1999 to 400 in 2010. (Figure 2). The increased number of running automobiles in the city contributes to the increased amount of NOx pollution, particulates suspension, and results in smog and high PM 2.5 level, reduces visibility and causes the air to appear hazy.
Table 1. No. of Registered Automobiles per 10000 People in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangdong, China. (1994-2012)
The smog in Beijing causes two serious effects: economic impacts and human health effects. Beijing, as the capital of one of the most influential developed countries in Asia, attracts much attention from all over the world. More and more people choose to travel around China and Beijing is always their first stop. However, the terrible smog has cut down the number of travelers. This leads to an extreme low in the tourist industry in Beijing a negative economic growth. In additional, the smog in Beijing also has given a bad impression to other countries especially when their presidents visit. In this Internet era, most news is about Beijing’s serious smog problem and it heavily ruins Beijing’s public image.
The second major effect of the pollution is its impact on human health. Generally, “smog is composed mainly of tropospheric ozone (O3); primary particulate matter such as pollen and dust; and secondary particulate matter such as sulphur oxides, volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxides (NOx) and ammonia gas” (Health Effects of Outdoor Air Pollution 7). Exceeding tropospheric ozone and particulate matter in the air make it difficult for people to breath and as a result, they feel dizzy. Some of them will have bronchitis and other respiratory diseases. Some secondary particulate matters further aggravate human health. Inhaling sulphur oxides and nitrogen oxides will cause side effects. Sometimes, sulfuric acid will be produced when sulphur oxides in the air react with water vapor. This, in turn, impacts the corrosivity on buildings and plants. According to the data below, as the smog situation worsens, the number of people with lung cancer drastically increases. For both men and women, the rate of lung cancer has risen since 2002 and the biggest increase was between 2009 and 2010. (See table 2) We have interviewed several friends about the air quality in Beijing in recent years. One of our friends, Yunchu, claimed that “I have to wear a mask when going out. Sometimes, my parents don’t allow me to go out even with the protection of the mask” (Xu 1). She also pointed out that the low visibility always leads to traffic accidents (Xu 2).
Table 2. Incidence rate per 100,000 people (Man and Woman) infect lung cancer in Beijing from 2002 to 2010.
Submerged in the thick smog, Beijing citizens desperate for a blue sky. “Coal accounts for 70% of China’s primary sources of energy” (Wang and Hao, 8), the main cause of smog. To control the usage of coal, there are three possible strategies.
Industrial transfer is the first one. To reduce coal pollution, Beijing should transfer heavy industry like steel, iron, and machine factories to neighboring areas. The mobility of heavy industry brings the capital, technologies, and human resources to the surrounding undeveloped areas, such as Heibei, Tianjing. This strategy not only improves the economy of the neighboring regions, but also reduces the population in Beijing. People will flow to adjacent cities where companies from Beijing will also provide good opportunities.
The second necessary solution is landscaping in Beijing, especially in the vicinity of factories. The plants impinge, absorb, and accumulate air pollutants (Escobedo), and different kinds of plants have various extents. Liu and Ding, researchers from Beijing, did an experiment to find suitable species for coal pollutants by using the air pollution tolerance index (APTI). APTI is based on four important parameters to identify tolerance levels of plant species (Liu and Ding 24). The result of the test shows that the plants have strong ability to absorb pollutants like SO2, CO, and NO2, including Cotinus coggygria, Periploca sepium, Lespedeza floribunda Ulmus pumila and so on (30). Thus, the government should plant more of these kinds of plants around the city to reduce air pollution.
The third vital strategy is using clean coal efficiently or using other eco-friendly energies. The Beijing government should implement relevant policies to encourage clean coal technologies like coal washing, Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle and end-of-pipe control of pollutants from coal combustion. The government also should develop coal-fired, iron and steel power plants to limit coal consumption. Developing other green energies such as solar energy, wind energy, nuclear power and hydropower is a perfect complement for reducing coal emissions. My interviewee, Hanxiao Ding, who is an entrepreneur of a manufacturing company said: “We are now using electricity and natural gas instead of coal. We do not spend more money than before because we save money on dealing emissions” (Hanxiao Ding).
Besides the heavy usage of coal, vehicle emissions in China are also a main cause of smog. PM2.5 as the major source of the pollutants from vehicle emission is a key cause to the smog in Beijing. From the records, 41.8% of PM2.5 pollution in Beijing came from vehicle emissions. Since Beijing is one of China’s largest cities with a huge population, the “vehicle emission can be a major contribution to smog because SOx, NOx, NH3 and VOCs generated from vehicle exhaust can form secondary PM2.5 particles” (Hu and Jiang 1). Three ways to improve the air quality by controlling the vehicle emissions can be implemented.
First, modify the fuel and use more advanced vehicles. Improving fuel quality such as decreasing the sulfur and lead percentage in fuel oil is an essential way to reduce the vehicle emissions. Alternative fuels such as compressed natural gas, not only reduce the greenhouse gas emissions, but also help to relieve the oil dependence. Additionally, advanced vehicles such as pure electric cars, hybrid electric cars, and fuel-cell vehicles are determined as “zero emission or ultralow” vehicles. The great use of those advanced vehicles can decrease the toxic emissions significantly.
Second, have a consistent policy on traffic control. During the Olympic Games in 2008, Beijing had taken temporary control of the traffic. According to Wu, et. al. “private vehicles could only operate on odd or even days” based on the license number; “trucks could only operate inside the Sixth-Ring road from midnight to 6 am [and] vehicles with yellow environment labels” could not operate on any road. If those temporary traffic controls can be ordered as a consistent policy for every few week or every few months, it can help to regulate the vehicle emissions impressively.
Third, add economic policies to increase the public awareness. Issue economic policies such as adding taxes and giving out subsidies can be effective in terms of increasing the public awareness. By applying higher taxes on the “high-emitting” cars or even reducing more taxes on the zero emission cars, more and more people may choose to buy the low or zero emission vehicles (Wu, et. al. 5). In 2009, the government offered subsidies in return for 106,000 yellow environment labeled cars (Wu, et. al. 5). So if the government provides more funds, people will see the importance to make a change. V. Conclusion
Vehicle exhaust and industrial coal consumption emits thousands of tons of wasted gases, such as nitrogen oxide, sulphur dioxide and particulate matter (PM). These pollutants have caused serious smog in Beijing. This situation causes many negative health effects for Beijing citizens, increasing the number of people lung cancer. It is high time that we lay special emphasis on solving the smog problem, caused by vehicle emissions and the industry that heavily relies on coal. Industrial transfer, planting eco-friendly vegetation, developing new energies and increasing the efficiency of coal play a vital role in the control of coal. As for the car emissions, the regulation of the current fuels combined with the usage of more alternative fuels and advanced vehicles is one possibility. Issuing a consistent policy of traffic control and adding an economic policy to raise public awareness are other possibilities.
In sum, the Chinese government should take more effective actions to reduce the smog, so as to enhance the likelihood of seeing “blue skies” again in the future.
1. Have you experienced the smog in Beijing and how has it affected your life?
2. Why you decide to live in Beijing, disregarding the terrible air quality?
3. Can you describe the living conditions when you are submerged in the smog?
4. In your opinion, what cause the smog in Beijing?
5. Do you have some possible solutions to improve this situation?
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Ding, Hanxiao. “ Breathing Beijing Smog.” Personal interview. 15 Feb. 2015.
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“Health Effects of Outdoor Air Pollution. Part 2. Committee of the Environmental and Occupational Health Assembly of the American Thoracic Society.” American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine 153.2 (1996): 6-45. Web. 22 Feb. 2015.
Liu, Yan-Ju, and Hui Ding. “Variation in air pollution tolerance index of plants near a steel factory: Implication for landscape-plant species selection for industrial areas.” WSEAS Transactions on Environment and development 4.1 (2008): 24-32.
Spooner, Alecia M. “What Is the Environmental Impact of Mining and Burning Coal?” Web log post. – For Dummies. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Feb. 2015. <http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/what-is-the-environmental-impact-of-mining-and-bur.html>.
Wang, Qingyun, and Juan Shan. “Lung Cancer Cases Linked to Air Quality.” Web log post. CHINADAILY. N.p., 27 Feb. 2014. Web. 23 Feb. 2015. <http://usa.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2014-02/27/content_17308056.htm>.
Wang, Shuxiao, and Jiming Hao. “Air quality management in China: Issues, challenges, and options.” Journal of Environmental Sciences 24.1 (2012): 2-13.
Xu, Yunchu. “ Breathing Beijing Smog.” Personal interview. 15 Feb. 2015.