Clear The Air News Blog Rotating Header Image


How scientists cracked the puzzle of Beijing’s wintertime smog

Sulphate levels in Chinese capital’s air similar to those produced by volcanic eruptions

Levels of a pollutant linked to diarrhoea and global cooling in Beijing’s notorious smog can approach those produced by volcanic eruptions, according to a newly published international study.

Researchers from Germany, the United States and China recorded extremely high concentrations of sulphate on the Tsinghua University campus in January 2013 during a joint study of air pollution in the Chinese capital.

Sulphate is a salt of sulphuric acid that, in nature, is usually formed in the atmosphere after a volcanic eruption.

The sulphate concentration on the roof of one Tsinghua building hit 300 micrograms per cubic metre of air, comparable to the fallout from the eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland in 2010, which produced an average, near-surface concentration of 400 micrograms over Scandinavia.

That might explain why some people experience diarrhoea, a typical effect of sulphate poisoning, on smoggy days, alongside other symptoms linked to air pollution.

But the high levels of sulphate in the smog that plagues Beijing each winter puzzled the researchers.

In nature, sulphate is formed when massive amounts of sulphur are thrust high into the atmosphere by a volcanic eruption and transformed by sunlight in a process known as photochemistry.

“No theory could explain why it happened during a cold, dim winter in Beijing with little photochemistry going on,” said Dr Su Hang, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany, and one of the scientists involved in the study.

In a paper published in the journal Sciences Advances on Wednesday, Su and his colleagues pinpointed a culprit: nitrogen oxides – a family of pollutants mainly created by industrial and vehicular emissions.

Nitrogen oxides, including nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide, could bind with water vapour and create many floating liquid droplets that would not freeze in sub-zero temperatures. The airborne droplets then served as a chemical reactor, absorbing sulphur dioxide from the atmosphere and turning it into sulphate. The more sulphate produced, the bigger the droplet and the faster the chemical reaction.

“It was like a chain reaction,” Su said. “Once started, it would not stop.”

That made the smog in Beijing different from the photochemical smog, driven by sunlight, that troubled Los Angeles in the 1970s.

The researchers said the amount of man-made air pollutants in China’s lower atmosphere had reached a level unprecedented in human history and that was triggering chemical reactions previously thought impossible.

In Beijing, Su said, smog could develop rapidly at night, and residents sometimes woke up to find the air outside “as thick as soup”.

Sulphate is also believed to play an important role in planet cooling, with scientists linking the massive spread of sulphate in the atmosphere after volcanic eruptions to numerous episodes of global cooling throughout history due to the chemical’s ability to reflect sunlight back into outer space almost as effectively as a mirror.

Whether the smog in China could help slow global warming required further investigation, the researchers said.

The researchers urged the authorities to treat nitrogen oxides as a major enemy in the battle against smog – with a focus on cutting industrial and vehicular emissions – because the chemistry at work in haze not only produced sulphate but also lots of nitrate, which could cause oxygen levels in the blood to drop, causing dizziness, headaches or even death.

“Reducing the nitrogen oxides can shoot several birds with one stone,” Su said.

Source URL:

What exactly is causing China’s toxic smog?

As thick, choking smog continues to envelop large parts of the country, long-suffering Chinese residents have raised questions

As thick, choking, toxic smog continues to envelop large parts of China, long-suffering Chinese residents have raised the question of what exactly is causing the terrible air pollution.

Have the country’s eco-friendly wind farms slowed air circulation, making it harder for smog to disperse, and has switching to natural gas contributed more harmful particles to the air than the use of coal?

These are the burning questions that Chinese social media users have raised over the past few days as residents across northern China endure the smog that is laying siege to a seventh of the country.

Some critics believe the government’s measures taken to counter air pollution have instead worsened its problems, but scientists say this is not the case.

The burning of coal is the biggest factor contributing to northern China’s smoggy conditions, according to Professor Chai Fahe, a researcher with the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences.



Speaking at a press meeting organised by the Ministry of Environmental Protection on Tuesday, Chai said emissions from burning coal in Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei – the most developed regions in northern China – were five times the national average.

The situation would worsen in winter, as many urban communities and rural families in those regions also relied on coal for heating, he said.

To reduce the country’s reliance on coal-fired power plants, the government set up large-scale wind farms.

Most of the wind turbines are located in grasslands in Hebei and Inner Mongolia to the north of Beijing, and sit across a major stream of cold air from Siberia.

A recent study found that near-surface wind speeds in Beijing had declined significantly, from 3.7 metres per second in the 1970s to just 3 metres per second presently.

Xu Dexiang, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences, said wind farms could indeed affect the movement of ground air, according to studies conducted both in China and abroad.

Significantly reduced wind speeds had been recorded in areas within 100km from the wind farms, Xu said.

But the impact to Beijing – which is more than 400km south of Inner Mongolia and 200km from Zhangjiakou in Hebei where most of the farms are located – would not be “obvious”, he was quoted as saying by Xinhua.


Xu also said a man-made forest created to reduce dust storms in northern China should not take the blame for the region’s worsening smog.

Such low-lying foliage would not slow down the movement of cold air, which travels at a height of more than 1.5km above ground, he said.

Critics have also raised the possibility that the worsening smog is due to Beijing’s switching winter heating sources from coal to natural gas.

Beijing has in recent years undertaken a massive and costly campaign to use cleaner energy. Natural gas is cleaner than coal, producing water and carbon dioxide when burnt, instead of the dust and smoke that coal produces.

But the water vapour that burning natural gas produces can also increase the concentration of air pollutants near ground. Ongoing research has suggested that tiny water molecules in the air may speed up chemical reactions, leading to worse smog.


Wang Zifa, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Atmospheric Physics, said the burning of natural gas in China pumped more than 300 million tonnes of water into the atmosphere each year – equivalent to 30 times the amount of water in Hangzhou’s famous West Lake.

Nevertheless, water vapour accounts for only a small, “almost negligible” fraction of water in the whole atmosphere, Wang said.

The use of natural gas hence was not a big contributor to the high humidity of Beijing’s smog, he said.

Wang Shuxiao, an environmental science professor with Tsinghua University, said the public should be more patient with the government’s anti-pollution measures.

China could counter its smog problem only if the whole of society worked together to reduce the emission of air pollutants, Wang said.
Source URL:

China’s Lung Cancer Epidemic is a Global Problem

In the West, China is arguably most well-known for its enormous population and the one child policy introduced in the 1970s to control it. Earlier this year, however, that policy was officially rescinded in order to combat a problem that most people generally associate with Europe or Japan: a rapidly falling population.

Indeed, after four decades of suppressing population growth, China is now afflicted by the problem of increasing numbers of retirees dovetailing with dwindling numbers of young people joining the workforce. Making things worse, China’s breakneck pace of economic development is now a major cause of preventable deaths every year. Air pollution and rampant smoking rates are making a bad demographical problem worse and Chinese authorities are slowly coming around to the idea that there is a direct connection between its population’s health and its economic prospects.

Today in China there are about 5 workers for every retiree. Given current population trends, by 2040 that ratio will stand at 1.6 workers for every retiree. The average age will rise from under 30 now to 46, with the number of people over 65 reaching 329 million by 2050, up from 100 million in 2005. The burden that this will place on the social services needed to care for the elderly in the face of falling tax revenues from a diminished workforce is only exacerbated by the fact that the country’s runaway cancer rates means that more of its elderly population will be in need of state care. Many of those sick beds will be taken up by lung cancer patients. With 600,000 deaths caused by the disease every year, expected to rise to 700,000 by 2020, China has the highest number of lung cancer patients in the world. And with an estimated 4,000 deaths a day caused by industrial pollution alone, grassroots organizations have finally decided that enough is enough and are beginning to agitate for something to be done to improve living standards.

Residents of China’s smog-filled cities have suffered for years, but it was a documentary released this year about China’s environmental problems that finally sounded a clarion call for Chinese people to rally to. Produced by Chai Jing, a former China Central news anchorwoman, the documentary racked up hundreds of millions of views before being scrubbed from the Internet by the authorities fearing that it could create a groundswell of discontent that could spill over into mass protests. Realizing the depth of feeling, the government has scrambled to get out ahead of the situation and declared its own ‘war on pollution’, culminating with President Xi’s historic agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions sign the Paris climate agreement.

As up hill a struggle as reducing industrial pollution will prove for the Chinese authorities, the other leading cause of lung cancer in China is set to present even more of a challenge. Nearly 70 percent of Chinese men are addicted to tobacco, one in three of whom are expected to die from the habit – by 2030, over two million people would die every year from smoking if nothing changes. Current tobacco reduction efforts in the country are hampered by poor enforcement and the massive influence of the state owned cigarette manufacturer, China National Tobacco Corporation, which supports millions of jobs among tobacco farmers and retailers.

Further frustrating the drive to curb tobacco use is the fact that China has signed up to the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which does not recognize e-cigarettes as an efficient way of quitting, despite the fact that over 10 million people have given up the habit thanks to vaping. The FCTC’s latest meeting in New Delhi raised new obstacles to the prospect of the organization softening its stance, after delegates blocked journalists and e-cigarette producers from even observing the meetings. In line with the Convention’s advice, China is expected to take measures that will restrict e-cigarettes and tobacco alike, with the ultimate aim of banning both.

While these obstacles may seem nearly insurmountable to China’s anti-tobacco agenda, there are lessons that can be carried over from its anti-pollution drive. International pressure has played a big part in getting China to face up to its killer smog and chemical problem, a problem with which Western countries are all too familiar from their own experiences in the previous century.

As noted in Chai’s documentary, when it comes to dealing with these issues China finds itself in a comparable position to the West in the 1950s, quickly growing and struggling to contain the environmental fallout. Ending on a bright note, the documentary references London and Los Angeles, both of which were regularly choked by haze in the 1940s and 50s, but managed to massively curb their pollution levels once they faced them head on. In getting to grips with its own problems, China is going to need all the help it can get from international partners and institutions if it is to save some of the millions of lives expected to be lost to lung cancer over the coming decades. Given the increasing importance to the world economy of a healthy and plentiful Chinese workforce, their success or failure in this endeavor is of global significance.

China’s hairy crab scandal reveals depth of pollution crisis

Toxin-tainted crustaceans raise doubts over clean-up of showpiece lake

Every autumn, Hong Kong restaurants serve a seasonal delicacy: hairy crabs, shipped the same day from lakes around the Chinese city of Suzhou.

But the territory’s food safety inspectors recently made a shocking discovery: some crabs in this year’s consignment contained dangerous levels of cancer-causing chemicals. Even worse, the crabs appeared to come from Lake Tai, a model in China’s fight against pollution after a multiyear, multibillion-dollar clean-up.

Has the clean-up failed? Or is something else amiss? The answer, says crab breeder Wang Yue, lies in “bathing crabs”, which carry the Lake Tai name but have spent minimal time in its waters.

Mr Wang and his family tend hundreds of crabs in baskets hung from bamboo posts in shallow Lake Tai, also known as Taihu. He estimates the market for crabs has grown to three times what families like his can produce, so crabs grown elsewhere are brought to the lake for a few days so that they can be sold on at a premium — a practice known as giving them a “bath”.

“The crabs here are sweet and tasty because the water is fresh. But people in other cities don’t know the difference,” he said. “Some people can make a lot of money by pretending they come from Lake Tai.”

Lake Tai and nearby Yangcheng Lake provide top-quality hairy crabs. But so many are cultivated elsewhere — in nearby lakes, ponds dug into former rice fields or even under solar farms — that prices have been depressed and breeders on Lake Tai struggle to break even.

The bathing crabs affair appears to be a classic Chinese food safety story, where an explosion in production outpaces regulators’ ability to police quality. But the bigger problem is the long shadow cast by China’s polluters.

A showcase environmental clean-up has markedly improved water quality at Lake Tai. But the costly success does little to address China’s broader soil pollution crisis.

Over the past decade, central planners drew up blueprints to tackle smog, water pollution and soil pollution by closing or moving factories, regulating emissions and improving monitoring — the playbook used at Lake Tai.

The result has been a steady improvement in COD, a measure of the organic content in water and one of Beijing’s environmental targets. But the dioxin and polychlorinated biphenyls found in the crabs could come from poorly regulated waste incinerators or steel sintering elsewhere in the Yangtze Delta region, or wherever the bathing crabs are raised.

“It may be discharged as air emissions but if it showed up in crabmeat it’s because the emissions got into the water and the soil, the sediment,” said Ma Jun, a Chinese environmentalist. Persistent organic pollutants such as PCBs “are hard to decompose. They are persistent. They will stay in the environment for a long time.”

From Mr Wang’s weir, the water smells fresh. A bucket of snails on his porch and the egrets perching on the bamboo struts testify to the improvement in water quality.

It used to be much worse. In the 1990s, 1bn tonnes of rubbish, waste water, pig manure and fertiliser entered Lake Tai every year. Petrochemicals, smelting and textiles turned the waterlogged region into one of the wealthiest in China. Local governments turned a blind eye to polluters.

In 2007 a toxic algae bloom cut off drinking water to 2m people for 10 days. Weeks earlier, authorities arrested a local man campaigning against factories dumping waste in the lake. He was jailed for three years.

After the algae bloom, Beijing declared the lake a natural disaster zone and ordered it cleaned by 2012. It shut factories and moved foundries to industrial zones, installed waste water treatment plants and discouraged pig farm expansion. A widened channel to the Yangtze river helped water circulate.

“There are 35m to 40m people around this lake who rely on its water. So the government had to prioritise it,” said Fang Yingjun, head of Lüse Jiangnan Public Environment Concerned Center, a non-governmental organisation. “Every year we go to the same spot to check the water for algae and every year it’s better. It really is much better. So much money has been spent.”

It was not easy. The warm, shallow lake is the perfect spot for organic pollutants to trigger algae blooms. At 2,338 sq km, it is one and a half times the size of Greater London — big enough to hide plenty of sins.

“You can’t really see the polluted water any more but companies are still good at disguise,” said Wu Lihong, the campaigner who was jailed. Lake residents still spot underwater pipes leading from factories. This summer a secret landfill for waste from Shanghai was discovered on an island in the lake.

And while Beijing focused on Lake Tai, it also encouraged polluting factories to migrate from wealthier areas to the poor hinterland. Meanwhile, ecommerce and cheap airfares allowed new crab farms to spring up around China.

Bathing crabs are likely to remain a barometer of China’s ability to clean up its environment for years to come.

A China Bothered by Pollution Grabs Global Green Bond Lead

China is extending its dominance of the global market for green bonds, just as the Paris Agreement on climate change takes effect this week.

The world’s most-populous nation accounted for $21.9 billion of the $61.1 billion in global green bond sales this year, data compiled by Bloomberg show. China, which in 2015 sold less than $1 billion of the debt whose proceeds are earmarked for environmental projects, is accelerating regulation to channel funds toward reducing pollution, Moody’s Investors Service said in a report last week.

“When you live in Hong Kong or China, pollution is there, it bothers you,” said Vincent Duhamel, head of Asia in Hong Kong at Lombard Odier Darier Hentsch & Cie.

“There’s been a number of family offices here in Hong Kong that once Dad has given away the controls and the kids take over they go for a much more impact-investing viewpoint.”

Lombard Odier estimates that within three years green bonds will account for 20 percent of the $700 billion annual investment needed under the Paris Agreement on climate change, which takes effect Nov. 4. China issued new measures to boost investment in green industries on Aug. 31 before President Xi Jinping opened the Group of 20 meeting in Hangzhou in September with five-year environmental goals that would help make China “a beautiful country with blue sky, green vegetation and clear rivers.”


“Concerns over rising levels of pollution in China and Hong Kong have raised awareness of the consequences of China’s growth story that started a few decades ago,” said Magdalene Teo, head of fixed income research Asia, at Bank Julius Baer & Co. in Singapore. “A growing number of investors worldwide including Chinese investors are interested in combining their investment objectives with environmentally sustainable investments.”

Green industries are facing teething troubles. Shanghai Chaori Solar Energy Science & Technology Co. was the first company to default on onshore bonds in 2014 amid solar panel overcapacity. Asian clean-power investment slumped 41 percent to $70.1 billion in the first nine months as governments curbed subsidies, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Authorities are struggling to integrate this year’s 13 percent jump in production from such plants into grids, it said.

“China is playing somewhat of a catch-up game,” said Daniel Shurey, a New York-based BNEF analyst. “A lot of the proceeds have been used for refinancing. We have seen a slowdown in investment in renewable energy which suggests refinancing won’t be as big next year.”

Bank of China Ltd. may price three-year green covered dollar bonds, underpinned by “qualifying green” domestic notes, as early as today at about 115 basis points over Treasuries, a person familiar said. While Chinese issuers often simply state proceeds will be used for activities on the domestic Green Finance Committee’s endorsed-projects list, the notes’ annual progress reports will help “build awareness” of responsible investing, Shurey said.

“While there are some investors who are attracted to green bonds because of the eco-friendly nature of the investment, the vast majority of Asian clients invest because of the specific return potential, name recognition and credit fundamentals,” said Todd Schubert, head of fixed-income research at Bank of Singapore, the private banking unit of Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp.


Issuers can be confident of demand. Developer Modern Land China Co. plans a yuan green note after selling $350 million of similar dollar notes with a 7 percent coupon on Oct. 14. When MTR Corp., owner of Hong Kong’s mass transit system, raised $600 million selling 10-year green bonds on Oct. 25 it got orders for $1.4 billion.

“Green bonds are quite new in Asia and largely promoted by the Chinese government,” Ben Sy, head of fixed income, currencies and commodities at the private banking arm of JPMorgan Chase & Co. in Hong Kong. “Some institutional investors may have social responsibility mandates but I don’t see the awareness on the individual client level yet.”

As incomes rise in China, so does concern about pollution

Over the last 40 years, hundreds of millions of people in China have escaped poverty as this enormous nation urbanized and became a manufacturing powerhouse fueled by cheap coal and cheap labor. But this development strategy has imposed enormous environmental costs on the Chinese people. Air pollution levels have soared, rural areas face severe water pollution and food safety continues to be a major concern.

China’s growth strategy also has international consequences. Air pollution from China travels east to Japan, Taiwan and South Korea and across the Pacific to the U.S. west coast. And China’s heavy use of fossil fuel has made it the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, raising the risk of severe climate change.

The Chinese people are well aware of how pollution is eroding their quality of life. The Weibo blogging platform, China’s version of Twitter, features daily discussions about the nation’s environmental challenges. And in Chinese cities, residents are demanding cleaner conditions through their words and their spending choices.

Dirty air and crowded streets

Although wealth has greatly increased in China in recent decades, life satisfaction surveys indicate that the Chinese people are not as happy as one might expect. We believe that pollution is the major cause.

In our book “Blue Skies Over Beijing: Economic Growth and the Environment in China ,” Professor Siqi Zheng of Tsinghua University and I argue that rising demand for environmental protection in China is an emerging trend that will improve the standard of living in China and increase overall global sustainability.

Multiple studies have shown that exposure to pollution in China is affecting public health and quality of life. Epidemiologists estimate exposure to air pollution shortens residents’ life expectancy by about 5.5 years in coal-dependent north China. Economists have found that both outdoor and indoor workers are less productive when exposed to higher levels of air pollution.

While China is ending its notorious one-child policy, urban Chinese couples still frequently choose to have just one child and arrange their lifestyles to invest in him or her. Many of these parents are proud of China’s economic growth but worried about how pollution may harm their child’s health.

In one interview for our book we talked to a Beijing resident with a Ph.D. from Tsinghua University, whom we identified at his request as Mr. Wu (many Chinese hesitate to be quoted by name criticizing urban living conditions). He said that his family planned to move to Canada or the United States after he earned enough money, in order to protect his daughter from dirty air and contaminated food and water in Beijing.

We also interviewed an urban planning scholar with a Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley whom we referred to as Dr. Zhang. In 2015 Zhang was recruited by Renmin University in Beijing and accepted an appointment as assistant professor. But after six months he decided to move to another university because he could not tolerate Beijing’s heavy haze and worried that it would harm his two young children’s health. Zhang’s case is not unique: Chinese urbanites told us that many top universities in Beijing lose out to Hong Kong universities when they try to recruit new economics and business Ph.D. graduates because of Beijing’s air pollution.

Paying for greener lifestyles

Chinese urbanites’ desire for cleaner, healthier living conditions is evident in their purchases. Looking at real estate transaction data from Chinese cities, we found a willingness to pay to live in a city or a location with higher environmental quality. Using data on all of the apartments sold in Beijing around the year 2005, we found evidence that apartment prices were higher in parts of the city featuring easy access to fast public transit, clean air (pollution levels vary across the metropolitan area) and access to green parks.

For example, all else equal, we calculated that in neighborhoods where levels of fine particulate air pollution (known as PM10) are 10 micrograms per cubic meter higher than other neighborhoods, real estate prices are 4 percent lower. In a cross-city study we found that apartments sell for higher prices in less polluted cities than units of the same quality and size in dirtier locations.

And city dwellers are acting to protect themselves. By examining internet sales data, we found daily sales of masks and air filters are much higher on days when the government announces that a city’s air pollution is “hazardous” versus days when government announces that local air quality is “excellent.” (Urban dwellers can track these reports with an Iphone app.)

These results suggest that China’s urban consumers trust government pollution announcements now — but this was not always true. Past research has documented that government agencies manipulated data to overstate the number of “blue sky” days between 2001 and 2010.

Recently, however, the cost of independently monitoring air pollution has declined. In 2008 the U.S Embassy in Beijing installed rooftop monitoring equipment and began providing measurements of local ambient air pollution. Growing competition in the “market for environmental information” has given the Chinese government incentive to truthfully report air pollution levels.

Beijing is also notorious for its traffic congestion. China’s recent investment in “bullet trains,” which travel at roughly 175 miles per hour, has increased access to mega cities. For example, people can now live in the nearby second-tier city of Tianjin and commute to Beijing in 30 minutes by train, instead of 1.5 hours by car.
We have documented increased home prices in second- and third-tier cities connected by bullet train to Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.

Competing for talent

The urban history of the United States suggests that a city’s environmental conditions can greatly improve within a short period of time. Pittsburgh, which was heavily polluted during its heyday as a steel-making town through the 1960s, has transitioned to a high-skill economy and now markets itself as green and sustainable.

Many of China’s richer coastal cities are already following a similar arc. Xiamen is a medium-sized city with a population of about 3.7 million, located on China’s southeast coast and the west bank of the Taiwan Straits. It enjoys mild winters and cool summers, with an annual mean temperature of 21 degrees Celsius, and clean air.

Xiamen’s leaders are pursuing a growth strategy based on the city’s amenities. A high-level municipal official told us they are using beach access, clean air, temperate climate and high-quality urban services to compete for talent and new firms. This strategy creates incentives for local leaders to invest in improving quality of life, and offers mobile urbanites choices about where to live.

China’s leaders still care about economic growth, but now they recognize the importance of attracting and retaining talented people, and are worried about an international brain drain as skilled workers move to Canada and the United States. As part of that strategy, national and provincial leaders are starting to evaluate local officials’ efforts to curb pollution and promote energy efficiency.

One mayor in a small, affluent city in the Yangtze River Delta told Siqi, “I do not want my citizens to complain about the pollution in my city. I do not want to become a bad ‘star’ on Weibo. In this case, even if I achieve very high GDP growth, I will have no chance to be promoted.”

Global benefits from a greener China

China’s transition from heavy manufacturing to a modern service economy will not be painless. Hundreds of millions of low-skilled workers prefer safe employment at a government factory, even if it means their city is polluted. One decentralized approach would be to allow some cities to become green centers featuring technology-driven high human capital industries while others continue to rely on heavy industry.

As China burns cleaner fuels such as natural gas and generates more of its power using renewables, it will become easier for China to be a “good global citizen” and work with the United States and other nations to seek to mitigate climate change. Over 18 percent of the world’s population lives in China, and a majority of China’s population now lives in cities. If China’s growing urban middle class succeeds in its demands for a better quality of life, the benefits will reach far beyond China’s borders.The Conversation

By Matthew Kahn, Professor of Economics, University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

Chinese officials questioned after cotton wool shoved in equipment to monitor air pollution: report

One official in Xian also accused of doctoring smog data stored on a computer to massage the figures, according to newspaper report

Three environmental officials in northern China have been questioned by the police after air quality tests were allegedly doctored by putting cotton wool in the sampling equipment to filter out impurities, according to a newspaper report.

One official in Xian in Shaanxi province is also accused of manipulating air pollution data stored in a computer, the Huashang Daily reported.

Environmental protection officials around China are under pressure to take measures to improve air quality after the central government announced two years ago that it had “declared war on pollution”.

The allegations of fiddling test results have been made against the director of the Chang’an bureau of Xian’s environmental protection agency, plus the director and deputy director of the air sampling station in the district, according to the report.

The director of the air sampling station sneaked into the station several times to manipulate data on computer after the station moved to part of the Xian University of Posts and Telecommunications, the newspaper said.

The centre is also overseen by the China National Environmental Monitoring Centre and officials became suspicious after a sudden improvement in the quality of the data.
Surveillance footage shot at the Xian monitoring centre was also allegedly deleted as staff knew the watchdog would be visiting, according to the article.

A source with knowledge of the matter was quoted as saying that the director of the station may have feared punishment because of the poor quality of the data collected.

Measures taken to ensure the accuracy of air quality monitoring include sending data immediately to the national environmental monitoring centre.

Monitoring devices are also programmed to detect abnormal results and watchdogs visit sampling centres without advance warning to carry out checks, an employee at the Xian Environmental Protection Agency was quoted as saying.

More than one million Chinese people died from illnesses linked to air pollution in 2012, according to figures from the World Health Organisation.

The Chinese government has been stepping up its efforts to improve air quality in recent years, including setting up a no-coal zone in cities around Beijing next year in an effort to tackle the capital’s notorious smog.

Source URL:

Nanjing ends waste incineration project

The eastern city of Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, has put an end to a controversial waste incineration project following public uproar.

The government of Nanjing’s Liuhe District announced on Thursday that it will stop the incineration project after widespread public disapproval. A scheduled public consultation on Thursday was subsequently canceled.

The announcement received a lukewarm, or even hostile, reception online with many netizens saying that they are not against the incineration plant, but rather where it is built, and whether it will operate in accordance with rules to avoid pollution.

Zhang Guoru, deputy head of the district’s urban management bureau, said that there is currently only one incinerator in the district, which can dispose of about 150 tonnes of household garbage each day.

“As the district is developing fast, the amount of garbage has exceeded 380 tonnes every day, and is predicted to reach 500 tonnes per day in three years,” he said.

Incinerators are considered the most feasible and effective means of disposing of garbage, but pollution concerns have led to public protests.

In 2014, a planned waste incinerator in east China’s Zhejiang Province led to clashes with police.

More runways are only the start: race to reclaim land in the Pearl River Delta is worrying

Johnny Wei says for a start, Hong Kong officials must work with their Shenzhen counterparts to coordinate plans for airport expansion in both cities, so as to minimise pressure on the marine environment

Hong Kong is not alone in wanting a three-runway system. Its neighbour Shenzhen is now preparing for an airport expansion, and this is posing a challenge for our cross-border coordination in at least one key aspect – the environment.

After several years of turnover growth, the Shenzhen Airport Group has just completed its second and last round of consultation for an environmental impact assessment for reclamation of 439 hectares of land, for the purpose of building a third runway. This reclamation is smaller in scale than the one proposed by Hong Kong for its own third runway (650 hectares). Regardless, the two reclamation projects are too close – only 32km apart – and are likely to threaten the habitat of the Chinese white dolphins, as well as compromise the water quality and long-term carrying capacity of the Pearl River Delta estuary.

As close observers of marine construction projects and their cumulative impact, we are alarmed by this unprecedented estuary-wide “reclamation contest”. Shenzhen airport’s ambition accounts for only a quarter of the near-term reclamation, or equivalent to a mere 8 per cent of the sea-to-land conversion blueprint of the special economic zone. Other cities including Zhuhai ( 珠海 ), Huizhou (惠州) and Guangzhou all have their own greedy plan of “asking for land” from the waters.

We’re not even counting the massive reclamation for the bridge connecting Hong Kong with Zhuhai and Macau, or the 350 hectares reserved for Macau’s new town development.

The question is: where is the limit of reclamation?

Several procedures must be completed before Shenzhen airport can break ground for its expansion. These include disclosure of the environmental impact assessment report, a public hearing, submission for state-level approval and an assessment of social stability risk.

We don’t know how long these proceedings will take, nor how much of Hongkongers’ concerns will be taken into account. There’s a good chance Shenzhen’s third-runway construction will overlap with Hong Kong’s, and this will exert greater pressure on seawater quality.

We don’t deny an airport plays a significant role for a city. The question is: where is the limit of reclamation and who may be qualified to set it?

A lack of coordinated environmental planning has long plagued the Pearl River Delta. The ties between the Hong Kong and Guangdong governments are mostly limited to economic collaboration, with little effort spent on cross-border environmental improvement.

We urge Hong Kong’s Environmental Protection Department to establish a communication channel with the Shenzhen Oceanic Administration and its Human Settlements and Environment Commission to obtain information on the anticipated expansion period of Shenzhen airport and its study of cumulative impacts. The two governments must work out a schedule that can protect the environment.

Pollution has no respect for borders, as shown by the recent rubbish surge in Lantau waters

Hong Kong should share with the Shenzhen authorities the lessons it learned about the negative impact of reclamation, and the use of its Protection of the Harbour Ordinance in limiting damage. Hong Kong went on a reclamation spree in the 1980s and 1990s. Shenzhen, where housing prices are at historical highs, now intends to boost its land supply in a similar approach but has little knowledge about the long-term costly payback.

Hong Kong must not shirk its regional responsibilities and must take part in delta initiatives such as the strategic environmental impact assessment inaugurated by China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection last October. The assessment, led by Beijing with the involvement of Guangdong, was created to evaluate the overall carrying capacity of our delta and develop planning strategies for estuary conservation and pollution control.

Pollution has no respect for borders, as shown by the recent rubbish surge in Lantau waters. Unless it takes the initiative with the mainland, Hong Kong has no hope of improving its environmental quality.

Johnny Wei is co-founder of the CrossBorder Environment Concern Association

Source URL:

China’s ‘natural’ disasters are man-made in many cases

With the onset of summer, China has been engulfed by natural disasters, particularly along the Yangtze River basin, where exceptionally heavy rainfall since the beginning of July has led to massive floods and mudslides in several major cities.

Massive floods in central China, in cities like Wuhan, are to be blamed not only on persistent and torrential rain, but also on the obsolete and poorly maintained underground drainage systems. Hence, we can say that the ferocious floods are partly natural, and partly man-made disaster.

China’s rapid economic growth over the past 40 years has come at a huge environmental cost. Industrialization, massive deforestation, rapid urbanization, reckless land clearance and over-harvesting have taken an irreversible toll on the natural environment, resulting in large-scale pollution, widespread soil erosion and desertification across the country.

The crisis has been compounded by the lack of public oversight and administrative transparency, as well as rampant corruption at basically every level of government. All these factors put together have exacerbated the environmental destruction across the mainland.

According to the official figures of the Chinese authorities, soil erosion is the second most critical environmental problem facing China apart from industrial pollution.

Currently soil erosion of different proportions has already affected an area of 3.6 million square kilometers, accounting for 37 percent of China’s total land area. In the meantime, the scale of desertification has also hit crisis level, affecting a total area of 2.6 million square kilometers.

It is estimated that as a result of continued soil erosion and desertification, China is losing an average of one million hectares of farmland every year, and the speed with which it is losing is accelerating.

In the meantime, China’s environmental crisis can not only be found on the ground, but in the atmosphere too.

Unregulated and unchecked carbon emissions have led to persistent smog in almost every major city across China. Highly polluted air has led to an increase in acid rain. It is estimated that as many as 190 cities across the mainland have been suffering from heavy acid rain in recent years, contaminating reservoirs, rivers, lakes and other fresh water sources.

To make things worse, while some parts of the country are plagued by relentless floods, other parts are facing persistent drought. When it comes to the scarcest and most hotly sought after resource in China, many people might immediately think of oil, but actually it is fresh water that is in need most.

As of now, China’s average fresh water resource per capita stands at 25 percent of the global average.

According to British climate expert and historian Hubert Lamb, government policies and political ideology of rulers often have profound and far-reaching implications for the natural environment. Unfortunately, contemporary China is simply a living proof of Lamb’s theory, showing how the ideology of a totalitarian regime can have devastating effects on the environment.

China’s massive environmental destruction dates back to as early as the 1950s, when Mao Zedong ordered the removal of the “4 perils”, during which hundreds of thousands of Chinese peasants eagerly took part in a nationwide campaign to kill sparrows on a massive scale because, according to Mao, they endangered crops.

Ironically, after all the sparrows in the wild had gone, the country witnessed a sudden surge in the number of pests such as locusts and aphids that were truly endangering crops.

Then during the period of the Great Leap Forward, Mao called on the nation to launch a steel production drive. That led to countless trees being cut down to produce firewood for makeshift and primitive steel mills across the country. During the process of steelmaking millions of tons of untreated toxic waste were discharged into rivers and lakes across China.

Unfortunately, even though Mao’s era is long gone, acts of state-sponsored environmental destruction are still underway in full swing across China.

As regional party leaders are obsessed with GDP growth and dazzling infrastructural projects without giving any consideration to the long-term implications for the environment, the situation looks bleak.