China’s Air Pollution “Transportation” To LA

January 20, 2011- By Robin Comita

China is home to the 16 cities with the worst air quality in the world. Linfen, China houses the world’s most polluted air due to its location in the center of a strew of coal mines. China’s coal industry and factories make the air quality particularly hazardous, even in spite of efforts to use green technology and improve air quality. In some of China’s cities, it is not uncommon to wear a surgical mask when walking outdoors. However, science has revealed potent data revealing what the Environmental Protection Agency has called the “global transport of air pollution.”

This data is of particular concern to Americans, especially those living in California. Science has yet to conclude the amount each industry in different countries contributes to the transportation of air pollution, but overwhelmingly China’s air pollution is now hovering over California. Los Angeles, California, is notorious for its low air quality and dense brown smog. The smog above LA is largely due to car emissions and geography. The San Gabriel Mountains prevent the smog from dispersing as it typically would in other US cities, and combines with cold sea air and tropical air pressure to trap the smog above LA. But these factors do not explain how Chinese air pollutants arrived in LA.

By studying the “signature” chemicals of specific pollutants from a particular region, scientists have tracked the pollutants movement across the world. Weather patterns convey the air in China to California, where much of China’s air pollutants remain trapped by the mountainous landscape. On a given day, as much as 25% of LA’s and 40% of California’s overall air pollution is imported from China.

As outsourcing has become the norm for US manufacturing companies, products sold in America increasingly bare the “made in China” or “made in India” labels. When a corporation outsources a business sector, part of the appeal is that the company has less responsibility for that branch. Headquarters do not have to provide health care and avoid paying “overhead” production costs for that sector. The findings of these studies have shown that the consequences of extensive and environmentally irresponsible manufacturing overseas returns to Americans in the form of lower air quality. 

Air quality studies have exposed potentially devastating effects to human health. Children raised in LA are more likely to develop asthma and stunted lung growth than children in other parts of America. If affected children move to an area with higher air quality before lung development is complete, many have greatly improved health. Living in places with poor air quality can reduce the quality of life for inhabitants, children and adults alike, and many times this harm is irreversible.

A leading environmental official in China gave his opinion to the New York Times in 2005, stating that China’s air pollution could quadruple within the next 15 years. As China’s population continues to increase, industry and infrastructure are likely to expand as well, which explains the steep climb in air pollution. As pollution in China increases, it follows that air pollution in the US will also increase, a threat that should concern Americans as well.

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