Chinese Air Pollution Blown to U.S. West Coast

air pollution

A new study about air pollution in the U.S. has found that bad air is being blown across the Pacific by ocean breezes from China, meaning that the Chinese are directly responsible for the increase in air pollution on the U.S. West Coast. However, it is believed that the reason for the Chinese increase in air pollution in their own country (which is then subsequently blown to the U.S.) could be due to the outsourcing of manufacturing by the U.S. and Europe, who rely on China for a large number of produced goods.

The study was published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and is said by its researchers to be the first of its kind in actually measuring the amount of pollution being transferred to the United States because of goods production in China.

According to the study, the air of the eastern United States has grown cleaner because of the decrease in manufacturing as requests are sent over to China instead. But the west has been intrinsically harmed by additional pollutants pushed across the ocean from China. Chinese pollution makes up 12% to 24% of the West Coast’s daily sulfate concentrations and has caused Los Angeles as well as other regions in the U.S. west to violate national ozone standards.

The study noted how in 2006 alone, sulfate concentrations rose by 2% while carbon monoxide and ozone levels increased in the western U.S. as well. When looking at the population average, it appeared that sulfate, black carbon and carbon monoxide levels went down, but when focused specifically on the West Coast of the U.S. as well as China, the quality of air significantly decreased.

The Chinese air pollution blown to the U.S. West Coast does link directly to exports from China. Chinese emissions of 36% of anthropogenic sulfur dioxide, 22% of carbon monoxide, 27% of nitrogen oxides and 17% of black lung carbon were all related to the exporting of goods, with 21% of all those emissions going to goods traveling to the United States. However, the study says that if such manufacturing was done in the U.S., as it previously was, the air pollution would not be as bad due to the far more rigorous standards which push companies to use greener materials and better processes to reduce pollution. China’s efficiency in this regard is not nearly so high.

Pollutants do more than just cause a nasty smog across the landscape. Black carbon has been linked to asthma and other diseases such as emphysema, cancer, and heart and lung disease. It is not something that can be cleared from the atmosphere with rain, so it often fails to dissipate, meaning that ocean winds called “westerlies” can send it across the Pacific within only a few days.

The Chinese capital city of Beijing made news recently for broadcasting the daily sunrise and sunset on giant TV screens because the smog is so bad that inhabitants cannot see the sky. In recent days, Chinese authorities have set new measures intended to cut air pollutant emissions and to improve the Beijing air quality by 2017. Beijing residents are often told to stay indoors on particularly bad days, when levels of air pollution reach hazardous levels. In 2013, the total number of polluted air days was 189, more than half the year.

Considering the amount of pollution the Chinese endure, it seems unsurprising that their air pollution is being blown to the U.S. West Coast as well as other countries around the globe. But how much, if any, of the blame for these emissions should be shouldered by the countries requesting the manufacturing that is causing at least part of this pollution?

By Marisa Corley

Washington Post

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