PRC General Pollution Issues

A real time global air quality index visual map can be found here.

Soil contamination

The growth of the PRC since the 1980s has lead to major soil pollution. The State Environmental Protection Administration believes it to be a threat to environmental quality, food safety and sustainable agriculture. 100,000km^2 of the PRC’s cultivated land has been polluted, with contaminated water irrigating a further 21,670^2 and 1,300km^2 have been destroyed or covered in solid waste. This accounts for 1/10 of the PRC’s cultivatable land. 6 million tonnes of grain are contaminated annually, costing about 29 billion yuan to the Chinese economy, roughly US$2.57 billion.


The PRC’s general lack of real environmental awareness (which proves the level of thought into one president elect’s allegations of the PRC “inventing global warming”) has lead to a lack of decent recycling systems. In 2012, the PRC generated 300 million tonnes of waste material.

Industrial pollution

In 1997, the World Bank issued a report targetting the PRC stating that “hundreds of thousands of premature deaths and incidents of serious respiratory illness have been caused by exposure to industrial air pollution. Seriously contaminated by industrial discharges, many of China’s waterways are largely unfit for direct human use.”

The New York times stated in a 2007 article that “Environmental degradation is now so severe, with such stark domestic and international repercussions, that pollution poses not only a major long-term burden on the Chinese public but also an acute political challenge to the ruling Communist Party.”

  • Air pollution has made cancer the PRC’s leading cause of death
  • Ambient pollution kills hundred of thousands of citizens annually.
  • 500 million Chinese citizens have no safe, clean drinking water.
  • only 1% of the 560 million city dwellers breath air considered safe within the European Union
  • Lead poisoning from pollution kills many Chinese children
  • Large sections of the ocean have no marine life because of massive algal blooms- eutrophication
  • Pollution from China has spread internationally, causing acid rain fall in Seoul and Tokyo, and even in Los Angeles.
  • The Chinese Academy of Environmental Planning estimated in 2003 that 300,000 people die each year from ambient air pollution.
  • Environmental experts estimated in 2005 that by 2010 380,000 people would die of air pollution in the PRC annually, and that in 2020 550,000 would.
  • “outdoor air pollution was already causing 350,000 to 400,000 premature deaths a year. Indoor pollution contributed to the deaths of an additional 300,000 people, while 60,000 died from diarrhoea, bladder and stomach cancer and other diseases that can be caused by water-borne pollution.”, “China’s environmental agency insisted that the health statistics be removed from the published version of the report, citing the possible impact on ‘social stability'”- World Bank, 2007
  • Up to 760,000 people died prematurely in the PRC in 2007 due to air and water pollution. Around 360,000 to 400,000 people died of air pollution within PRC cities. 300,000 died because of poor indoor air quality, and 60,000 from poor water quality.

Electric Waste

Electronic Waste means discarded electronic devices which have not been recycled or re-purposed.

In 2011, the PRC produced 2.3 million tons of electronic waste. Additionally, a lot of electronic waste is imported from abroad.

Water supply

Due to general water shortages and high water pollution, there are often issues in the PRC in acquiring healthy drinking water. A quickly growing population, as well as often lax environmental laws regarding buildings have only increased demand for clean water.

Air Pollution

Coal combustion produces Particulate Matter known as PM. Beijing suffers from PM2.5- Particulate Matter less than 2.5 micrometers across. Such fine matter can easily lead to breathing problems such as bronchitis and asthma, and even lung cancer at extremely low ages (the typical age to contract cancer is above about 75 through most of the world, with this being raised to 80 with a healthy lifestyle, but in the PRC cases have been recorded of even 8 year olds having lung cancer).

Lung cancer is about 3x as common in Chinese cities as opposed to the countryside, despite similar exposure to other carcinogens such as tobacco smoke.

Despite now having means to measure much of the air pollution, measurements in 2013 showed that the  pollution was beyond the scope of what could be measured in the present particulate sizes.

Impacts of Pollution Generally

  • In 2005, pollution cost 3.05% of the PRC economy
  • Depending on the economic model (Eastern or Western), in 2003, according to the World Bank, 2.68% or 5.78% of GDP was spent on water or air pollution
  • A review of this in 2009 said that this might be as high as 10%
  • A 2012 study said that pollution had little effect on the actual growth of the PRC economy; even if they were going to continue using polluting industries and inefficient energy sources. Eventually, the effects of pollution would start to off set the gains from them into the economy.
  • In 2015, Berkeley Earth estimated that 1.6 million people die annually in the PRC from strokes or heart or lung issues caused by pollution.


The PRC is one of very few countries actively increasing its forest coverage, which is working to reduce its environmental pollution. Due to Mao’s policies, much of the forest of the PRC was removed in the past, leading to dust storms frequently entering the city in line with the air currents from elsewhere. This started to cause pollution across urban areas. Replenishing forest areas should help to reduce this impact, although it will probably take many years to resolve the situation caused by deforestation entirely.

Additionally, the air pollution and water pollution within the PRC are also decreasing, according to government account. Although the PRC is clearly very polluted, the government claims that they are trying to reduce the situation, and there is reasonable evidence that they are taking some good measures on this line, but not very far into actively reducing air pollution, where it is really most needed.


On 1st June 2008, the PRC banned all shops from distributing free plastic bags to customers. Stores have to clearly mark the price of plastic shopping bags and are banned from adding that price onto products.  The production of ultra-thin plastic bags, less than 0.025 mm across are also banned. However, the ban does not effect  take-away food businesses or paper bags. The year after the ban was introduced, the International Food Packaging Association found that 10% fewer plastic bags had entered the rubbish system.

Legislation has been introduced preventing the introduction of electronic waste, but it has been criticised as vulnerable to fraud.

Air Pollution:

The PRC government recently started to include ozone and PM2.5 in their air quality indexes, which are the two most harmful forms of air pollution in the country. Official data shows air pollution decreasing, but with the PRC’s record of requests to not publish figures on their pollution rates, it is reasonable to assume that the published data was heavily manipulated.

After record high pollution levels in 2012, the government made an action plan to reduce pollution levels in September 2013. The plan was to reduce air pollution 10% between 2012 and 2017, which from the frequency of the alerts delivered in the last few years, has not been successful. The plan was published on the government website.

On 20th August 2015, to create a “Parade Blue sky” for the celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII, the government shut down industries for a day in Beijing, and heavily regulated car exhaust fumes. PM2.5 concentration was briefly 35mg/m^3 lower than the national average in the city, down to 19.5mg/m^3, the lowest in the city’s recorded history.

The government is aiming to reduce its fossil fuel usage by increasing the PRC’s capacity for renewable energy sources, or other less polluting energy sources, such as nuclear power, hydroelectric power and compressed natural gas.

The PRC government set up a system of air quality alerts. These alerts are based on air quality indexes. The alerts are given through the large cities of the PRC.

  • A Blue warning indicates pollution levels of AQI 201-300 (Heavy Pollution) within the next 24 hours
  • A yellow warning indicates an AQI of 201-300 for three days or AQI between 301-500 (Hazardous) within the next 24 hours.
  • An orange warning indicates that pollution levels will be above 201 for the next three days, going between “Heavy Pollution” and “Hazardous”
  • A red warning indicates an AQI above 201 for four consecutive days, or above AQI of 301 for two days, or an average of over 500 over the course of one day.

Mexico City- Air Quality

Mexico City is located in a valley which traps pollutants within the local environment. This has lead to the city having major air pollution issues. In 1992, the UN described the air as the most polluted on the planet. In 1998, this earned it the reputation of the most dangerous city for children.

The government has thus been trying to improve their image.

Factors contributing to the low air quality

  • Industrial growth
  • Population boom (3 million in 1950 to 20 million now)
  • Proliferation of vehicles. 3.5 million vehicles in the city, 30% more than 20 years old.
  • Mexico City is about 2,240 m above sea level; there are lower oxygen levels at this altitude, so fuels will often perform incomplete combustion, releasing more dangerous chemicals such as Carbon Monoxide instead of Carbon Dioxide
  • Intense sunlight can turn chemicals into greater intensities of smog.

Solving the problem

In the 1990’s the government introduced air quality campaigns that included a rotating one-weekday ban on private car use. On days of high pollution there are more weekday bands and some bands on heavy industry. Car owners have to have their vehicles certified every 6 months.

Researchers on the air pollution issue have trained local people to have a greater awareness for the importance of air quality. They also trained people on better consumption and purchasing practices.

A support group was also set up to aid those affected by air pollution and those at higher risk of effect- the very young, the sick, and very old.

Tangible benefits

Due to the health impacts of various chemicals in the air pollution, many people were dying much younger than they would otherwise. More than 20 researchers from various research groups put together information on the benefits removing the pollution would have on the city. They estimated that removing one microgram per cubic metre of a chemical called PM10 would be worth about US$100 million annually. Reducing PM10 and Ozone by 10% would save US$760 million annually.

That translates to 33,287 fewer ER trips for respiratory issues and 266 fewer child deaths annually.

New Delhi pollution

There are 8 x 10^6 cars in New Delhi. It is the most polluted city in the world.

The air has 16x the safe concentration for PM2 (a pollutant). New Delhi has 300-400 mgcm^-3; a safe concentration would be 25.

Suggestions to improve this include alternating days for driving, or limiting the number of big deisel vehicles. 700,000 more people are in public transport, but pollution can still be 20x the safe levels.


Linfen is in the mid-Eastern PRC

It has a humid environment, and is in a valley so temperature inversions occur frequently, trapping in smog. This is worst in winter, where more fuel is used for heating buildings. Less rain and wind occurs to remove smog from the area.

Factories in Linfen producing green technology still primarily rely on coal to fuel them.

In the PRC, there is a new coal powered energy plant each week.