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Effects of Air Pollution on Human Health in Northern China

1588 words (6 pages) Essay in Environmental Studies

08/02/20 Environmental Studies Reference this

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 China is one of the biggest developing countries in the world. Its rapid development heavily relies on its significant industrialization after world war II. With the rising growth of economics, the status of environment is deteriorating gradually. Majority of Northern China cities don’t reach the target in air pollution in order to boost economic growth in 2018. Reuters states, “The key northern pollution control zones of Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei and the Fenwei Plain failed to meet air quality targets” (Hermesauto 2018). Relevant officials determined not to cut to steel production and coal use in these areas in order to promote the slowing economy in China.

Environmental pollution is an unavoidable issue in developing countries. There are two main sources of air pollution in Northern China which are transportations and industry. The combustion happened in vehicles and factories caused over-amount of Ozone floating above cities in Northern China. Ozone is a form of three oxygen molecules combining together. It is created through photochemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC) in the presence of sun radiations, which are emitted from vehicles, refineries and other sources of high-heat combustion. Unlike most of the common pollutants, Ozone gases are invisible though it is one of the most dangerous air pollutants. The Ozone layer we are familiar in the stratosphere is beneficial for humans since it helps to block the UV rays from the sun and prevent us from getting skin cancer. But the Ozone in Northern China is within the troposphere. In other words, it happened at ground level. Tropospheric Ozone is considered an air pollutant that can seriously harm the human respiratory system (Eco-effects of Ozone Pollution). The EPA has reported there is a variety of respiratory diseases associated with high levels of ozone, such as “chest pain, coughing, airway inflammation. It also can reduce lung function and harm lung tissue” (Ground-level Ozone Pollution). These seemingly-small damages can develop into further and severer illness like cancer in the long run.

Aside from excessive amount of Ozone in the atmosphere, particulate emission is also a significant issue in Northern China. Northern cities including Beijing, Tianjin, and Hebei are coal-prone and massively rely on steel and refinery industry. Although burning coal, gasoline, and fossil fuels produces enough electricity for residents and provide power to the factories, it also produces combustion particles like PM2.5 which refers to floating particles in the air that has the diameter of 2.5 microns or even less. “Levels of PM2.5 in the key pollution control region soared 24 percent over the two-month period from the same time a year ago to an average of 108 micrograms, more than 10 times the 10 micrograms recommended as safe by the World Health Organisation” (Hermesauto 2019). Owing to its small size and light weight, PM2.5 tends to stay longer in the atmosphere than heavier substances. It is also able to are able to avoid the nose and throat part and permeate deeply into the circulatory system. This adds to more possibilities of organisms inhaling it into their bodies. Researchers have discovered a close connection between exposure to minute particles and early death from cardiovascular and pulmonary disease. Director Xue Qi of the country’s National Cancer Institute states, “China has seen a sharp increase in the disease over the past 10 to 15 years, hitting groups traditionally not susceptible such as women and nonsmokers” (Hermesauto 2017). Now lung cancer is not just targeting towards smoking population, but also people who live under the smog. It is fairly likely this rapid rise of lung disease might exhibit some relation to the long-term exposure to air pollutants, especially PM2.5.

  Producing harmful gases is an inevitable process of the industry. It’s not likely that the government would be willing to stop industrialization. Under this circumstance, the officials come out with other substitute plans. The researchers from The Strait Times stated, “The northern Chinese city of Xi’an is experimenting with a giant air purifier the size of an industrial smokestack which can reduce PM2.5 concentration by 15 percent within 10 sq km” (Hermesauto 2019). Although it’s still utilizing machines and using energy, it can at least guarantee that parts of the residents are able to breathe clean air in seriously-polluted regions.

In order to solve the air problem, in the long run, the government started to plant an abundance of willow trees and poplar trees in order to absorb more harmful gases in the atmosphere since the 1980s. Poplar and willow trees help combat air problems. For example, just a single poplar tree with twenty-centimeters diameter can “assimilate 172 kg of carbon dioxide, discharge 125 kg of oxygen and stop 16 kg of dust” per year (Cheng 2017).  Compare to ordinary plant species, they do contribute impressively in the field of improving air quality by absorbing a large amount of dust and greenhouse gases. Moreover, they are suitable for northern climates that they can endure dry soil. They grew quickly and needed low maintenance. Now, there are approximately 120 million poplar trees and willow trees in Beijing and other Northern cities in China.

 Although it’s helpful for controlling air pollution, these trees create catkins which bring extra potential threat to 20 million current urban residents. When the government began to plant those trees, they didn’t pay any attention to selecting the gender. In this case, most of those planted trees were female trees which produce massive amounts of catkins in April. Catkin is the seed of poplar trees and willow trees covers by a thin layer of fibers. The seed itself has a little amount of oil. The fiber around the seeds is flammable. Its flocculent structure allows it to have sufficient oxygen supply due to more exposed areas attached to the air (Liu 2018). In 2017, the government sprayed 8,750 tonnes of water stop catkins from floating in the air. Because there are over “686 fire alarms in April, 346 of which were reportedly caused by highly-flammable catkins” (Cheng 2017). The threat it can bring is unimaginable since most of the trees are located in the cities. If serious fire accident truly happens, the consequences are unpredictable from the perspectives of economy and city security. Besides, these little seeds are allergy-inducing and can be active for five to six weeks. During this time, urban residents who are already besieged by severe air pollution need to bear these floating seeds. The official introduces a new method to reduce the amount of catkins by injecting a substance into female trees in order to change their gender. In this case. the trees can still survive and absorb greenhouse gases without producing over-amount of catkins (Cheng 2017).

 In conclusion, air pollution in Northern China can’t be solved in one day. Its overall reasons for pollution are the lacks of supervision of the steel industry and loose standards for the manufacturing industry. Victor Hugo once said, “Nature is kind of a loving mother, but also a butcher in cold blood.” I suggest, it ultimately depends on how we treat nature. If the human race stops polluting the earth, catastrophes like hurricanes and tornados will happen less often due to the decline of global warming.

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