Planet Gore

Too Bad Breathing Is a Carcinogen in Tom Friedman’s China

Tom Friedman, never one to miss an opportunity to herald China’s infrastructure when compared with America’s, is eerily silent on the pollution in Beijing. Bloomberg reports:

Pollution in Beijing soared for a second weekend as smog started to cover most of the city from late yesterday, prompting the government to warn residents to reduce outdoor activities and urge companies to curb emissions.

The city’s meteorological bureau issued yellow alerts for fog and haze while children and the elderly were advised stay indoors as the air became “heavily polluted,” according to Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center classifications. Readings of PM2.5, fine airborne particulates that pose the largest health risks, rose as high as 400 micrograms per cubic meter in some parts of the city, compared with World Health Organization guidelines of no more than 25.

Bad air quality and pollution is prompting more Chinese to travel abroad for the weeklong Chinese Lunar New Year holiday which starts Feb. 9, state-run China National Radio said today.

Snow is forecast to fall in Beijing today and tomorrow which should improve the air quality, the official Xinhua News Agency reported today, citing the local weather bureau.

Beijing ordered government vehicles off the city’s roads on Jan. 13 as part of an emergency response plan to ease pollution that engulfed the capital and left hospitals inundated with patients complaining of heart and respiratory ailments. It also told dozens of factories to temporarily halt production and construction companies to suspend work.

Official measurements of PM2.5 rose as high as 993 micrograms per cubic meter on Jan. 12. At 4 p.m. local-time today, the PM2.5 reading was 125 while the Air Quality Index was at 164, a level the government describes as “lightly polluted.”

‘Beijing Cough’

The U.S. Embassy in Beijing, which uses a monitor in its compound in the east of the capital, showed a PM2.5 reading of 71 at 4 p.m., down from 371 at 10 a.m. Its Air Quality Index reading was 154, down from 415.

Long-term exposure to fine particulates raises the risk of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases as well as lung cancer, according to the WHO. The official English-language China Daily newspaper said Jan. 14 that Beijing was becoming better known for “Beijing Cough” than it was for Peking Duck or Peking Opera.

To put an AQI reading of 415 in perspective, here is a chart provided by the EPA. Beijing is way down there in the maroon “don’t breath unless you really, really need to” zone.

And for even more perspective, Bakersfield, California has the worst air pollution in the United States. Earlier this year while Beijing’s AQI reached 755, the highest Bakersfield has reached in the past 12 months is 159.

Here’s what the pollution looks like in Beijing:

I would hope Tom Friedman keeps these pollution numbers in mind the next time he is marveling at the wi-fi access on some Chinese high-speed rail train. Would you rather breath or check Facebook, Mr. Friedman?


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