Air pollution in China is becoming more and more serious, with haze so thick in some areas that even nearby buildings cannot be seen clearly.
It is feared that the atmospheric contamination in the country could further spread when the winter sets in, with a massive amount of coal to be burned for heating. An immediate task facing the Chinese government is to take swift measures to fight the worsening pollution.
On Monday, the concentration of PM2.5 topped the observable upper limit of 1,000 micrograms per cubic meter in Harbin, Heilongjiang Province. The airborne particles, 2.5 micrometers in diameter or smaller, are considered most harmful to health.
The figure far exceeds Japan’s environmental safety standard for PM2.5, which is set at an average of 35 micrograms per day.
On Monday, all primary and middle schools were closed in Harbin, and bus service was suspended on some routes.
This dire situation is not limited to Harbin. In October, the PM2.5 pollution is extending to other areas, mostly in northern China. For instance, Beijing has been blanketed with thick smog. On many days, the Chinese capital has seen its PM2.5 pollution reach the “serious” level—the worst reading on the six-grade scale of air pollution set by the authorities.
There are concerns about health hazards posed by the air contamination. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organization, has certified that PM2.5 can cause cancer, saying that its cancer-causing risk is comparable to those of asbestos and smoking.
PM2.5 particles can find their way deep into the lungs and can cause asthma and bronchitis. The IARC had every reason to assert that the international community must take quick steps to address the problem. There also are concerns about the health of Japanese residents in China.
Reduce pollution sources
What must be done to fight the air pollution is, first of all, to install desulfurization equipment at coal-fired power stations and factories in China, a task necessary for making the smoke from these facilities relatively cleaner. Coal-fired thermal power accounts for about 80 percent of that country’s electricity supply. It is essential to ensure that the Chinese become deeply aware of the need to spend money for environmental protection, instead of only seeking short-term profits.
Another pressing task is to reduce the air contamination caused by exhaust gases from more than 200 million cars and motorcycles on Chinese streets. Gasoline used in China contains a good deal of sulfur, a source of high-concentration pollutants. Given this, it is imperative to improve the quality of gasoline used in China.
The key to success—or failure—is whether the government of President Xi Jinping will be able to reform his country’s petroleum industry, which has long been able to gain exorbitant profits by selling low-quality products, an achievement made possible through its strong political clout.
Japan cannot dismiss China’s air pollution as someone else’s problem. PM2.5 and other pollutants have been carried by the prevailing westerly winds to arrive in Japan, especially in the western part of the nation.
Environmental protection is an important task that Japan and China must carry out together, despite their feud over the Senkaku Islands.
The authorities in Beijing are scheduled to send a team of officials in charge of the problem to Tokyo by the end of the month. The Chinese government also has invited some Japanese experts to visit China. This apparently indicates a sense of urgency shared by both countries about the air pollution in China.