Friday, October 25, 2013

Extreme air pollution hits NE China

Harbin, October 22, 2013. [Photo: Xinhua]
Heavy smog engulfed northeast China this week, forcing schools closures, and disrupting flights and highways. Visibility in the northeastern city of Harbin was severely reduced and the authorities issued alerts for thick smog or fog.

Officials indicated three major causes of the recent environmental crisis: pollution from coal-burning heating systems; farmers' burning crop stalks; and unfavorable weather.
All monitoring stations in the region reported readings above 200 for PM2.5 indicating severe pollution, eight times higher than safe levels recommended by the World Health Organization.

Harbin is famous for its ice and snow festival which attracts a large number of visitors every year, but the city's frigid winter means that heating is needed for six months of the year. Pushed by big variations in temperatures between day and night and the start of the winter heating season the coal-fueled heating systems are suspected to be trigger of this week events.

While Harbin's recent air pollution issues made the headlines worldwide this week, the situation is not isolated as many cities in Northern China rank among the most polluted in the world.
The Chinese authorities issued earlier this week an educational guide to inform the population on the health risks caused by environmental pollution and ways to minimize the exposure to airborne contaminants.

The Peking Union Medical College and the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention recently released a study suggesting that outdoor and indoor air pollution are the fourth- and fifth-biggest disease-causing factors in China.

Air is one of the essential ingredients for good health and poor air quality, outdoors and indoors, can damage our health. While the outdoor pollution has global effects that affect us all, it is relatively difficult for individuals to reduce their exposure to airborne contaminates.

As indicated by numerous studies on human exposure to air pollutants, the concentrations of air pollutants may be 2 to 5 times (and up to 100 times) higher indoors than outdoors. Indoor air pollutants have been listed among the top five environmental risks to public health and during the cold season when homes, schools and offices are sealed up to conserve energy, the problem can be magnified.

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