In a scene like something out of a science fiction novel, the smog is so heavy in the city of Beijing, China that residents have taken to eagerly flocking around giant LED television screens broadcasting beautiful images of artificial sunrises because they can no longer see the real thing, thanks to heavy air pollution.
The screens, which are placed all around China’s capital city, are normally used to broadcast advertizements for tourist attractions, but they are now used to broadcast images of sunrises, a sight that residents can no longer view for themselves due to density of the air pollution in the city.
The electronic billboards also bear slogans such as one reminding residents that air quality is everyone’s responsibility.
Beijing’s level of air pollution has reached dangerous levels. On Thursday, the air density reading was the highest it’s been since January 2013, with a measurement of 671 micrograms. This concentration of small toxic particles in the air is 26 times what the World Health Organization deems to be safe, which is 25 micrograms. As a result, the Beijing Municipal Government issued a yellow smog alert this week, urging the elderly and children to remain inside until the air quality has improved.
According to a traffic officer, who was only willing to give his last name, Zhang, the smog has gotten worse in recent years. Zhang states that he often coughs and has an irritated nose. He seems to feel hopeless to do anything about the situation, however, stating that he drinks more water in the hope of helping rid his body of the toxins.
Visitors to Beijing, as well as residents, have taken to wearing face masks in an attempt to minimize their exposure to harmful toxins in the air.
One of the largest sources of pollution in the city is coal-burning boilers. As a result, the mayor of Beijing, Wang Anshun, has made a pledge to cut coal use by 2.6 millions tonnes. In addition, he has pledged to spend 15 billion yuan (almost $2.5 billion) on fixing the city’s air quality issues.
Smog is the visible residue of various chemical emissions, such carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide. It derives its name from its smoky, fog-like appearance in the air. Small particles in the air, such as those produced by the burning of fossil fuels like coal, are hazardous to health when they are inhaled because they can invade deep into the lungs, causing problems with breathing.
In 1970, the U.S. Congress passed the Clean Air Act to deal with the threat from this type of pollution. Over the years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has set standards for particulate matter in the air, revising them as new scientific data becomes available.
In addition to the threats that smog poses to health, it also reduces visibility in the skies, creating problems similar to what are being experienced in Beijing that have necessitated the use of artificial sunrises broadcast from TV screen to remind people of just why it’s so important to reduce air pollution.
By Nancy Schimelpfening