By Jeanifer Uwaechie, Rutgers University in New Brunswick

A man riding his bicycle in the Chinese smog.

It is no longer news that the Chinese economy has made great strides in recent years. In the past 10 years in particular, China has achieved what developed countries did in several decades or even centuries. China’s progress however has come at the expense of the country’s overall health.

China faces high rates of air pollution. Exposure to particulate matter, which is a mixture of small particles of black carbon, mineral dust, sodium chloride, sulfate, ammonia, nitrate, and water, is 15 times higher in China than the allowable levels prescribed by the WHO.

This pollution can have lasting and damaging effects on people’s health. It is believed that air pollution caused 1.2 million premature deaths in China in 2010 alone, which is nearly 40 percent of total premature deaths in the world. During the last 30 years, death rates have increased by 465 percent, as a result of an increase in lung cancer cases in the country. Continuous exposure to these particles contributes to the development of chronic diseases. It was recently reported that an eight- year-old girl developed lung cancer as a result of the country’s pollution.

Chinese businesses have made attempts to improve health conditions for its citizens. Many hotels have installed ground-source heating and cooling systems, some businesses, such as Thermo Fisher Scientific, have increased manufacturing of air monitoring systems, some are selling fresh air in containers. Citizens are provided with mountain air from blue bags manufactured by Jiangsu Huangpu Renewable Resource Limited Company. The very idea of selling air reveals the appalling health conditions to which Chinese citizens have fallen victim.

What can be done to correct this?

  1. Companies in China should consider implementing carpooling systems for their employees. One carpool vehicle replaces 6-8 cars on the road. Also, the Transportation Research Board provided a summary of the annual cost effectiveness of various projects to cut emission in the United States. About six vanpooling and bus pooling initiatives were able to reduce emission by $10,500 per ton during 2000. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) calculated that if employees were to change their form of transportation to carpooling, the daily Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) would reduce by 15,000 and this would result in a decrease in daily gasoline consumption by 630 gallons by passenger cars and 870 gallons by light trucks.
  2. Chinese motor manufacturers can help to reduce the pollution in the country by producing efficient, low-polluting E85 vehicles that utilize a mixture of 15 percent gasoline and 85 percent ethanol. This initiative can also produce more jobs in the country.  In 2012, the ethanol bio-refinery industries in the United States contributed to more than 70,000 direct and 295,000 indirect jobs in the country. This initiative would reduce the use of petroleum by vehicle owners in China as it has in the United States. In 2012, Clean Cities, an initiative which started in the United States saved 38 million gallons of petroleum with the use of ethanol fuel vehicles. The Renewable Fuel’s Association concluded that as ethanol increased from 1 percent to 10 percent of gasoline supply, the US dependence on imported petroleum declined to 41 percent. This suggests that if China were to produce more ethanol, their dependence on petroleum may drop, gradually decreasing the emission of gasoline in the air.
  3. The Chinese government should enforce national air quality standards in each province and these standards should clearly state the amount of sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone and lead each plant can emit. This initiative would dictate how businesses in each province would implement the standards as the EPA has done in state, local, and tribal businesses in the United States. The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to set National Ambient Quality Standards and each state must develop a State Implementation Plan (SIP) which includes a monitoring program, air quality calculations model, emission control strategy, and periodic review to evaluate emission reduction efforts. The Clean Air Act contains sanctions that can be imposed on states that do not comply with SIP requirements. This suggests that if Chinese businesses do not abide by the national air quality requirements, they may be subject to various sanctions.

Utilizing carpooling systems, producing E85 vehicles, and enforcing national air quality standards in each province in China would decrease the emission of air pollution particles; hence reduce the rates of lung cancer, respiratory disease, and premature death.