China weighs green energy odds with air pollution clean up

WNN Earth Watch

Extreme air pollution seen in downtown Beijing
Extreme air pollution causes only an outline of skyscrapers to be seen in this January 12, 2013 photo image of downtown Beijing, China. For 19 days in January the capital city of China endured the worst bout of air pollution ever experienced. Image: Imgur

(WNN) Beijing, REPUBLIC OF CHINA, EASTERN ASIA: Vowing to de-escalate the use of coal as a primary source of energy for the China’s capital city in Beijing, serious discussions surrounding the slowing down of pollution in the city has begun in earnest to combat the negative effects of coal dust on the health of its citizens.

Beijing has been plagued by toxic laden skies for the past decade which has been showing sharp increases over the past five years. In January 2013 the U.S. Embassy in the capital city released readings that reached as high as 886 micrograms per cubic meter showing PM (Particulate Matter) 2.5.

According to the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study 2010 created by the World Health Organization and respected universities worldwide, approximately 1.3 million people inside China have been impacted by health problems due to air quality issues.

This decrease for ‘healthy’ air in China’s urban regions could cause “premature death,” outlined the U.S. EPA – Environmental Protection Agency.

Nitrous dioxide, sulfur dioxide, benzene and butadiene, as well as airborne particulates make up much of the toxic culprits causing numerous concerned Beijing citizens to wear masks now whenever they go in public outside. Over two weeks of extreme pollution in the region last January also caused the government to tell its citizens, as well as children, to stay inside; companies to tell their employees to stay home; as well as a request by Beijing officials that city cars must stay off the road until the air clears.

“An authoritative review of the evidence for cardiovascular effects, conducted by cardiologists, epidemiologists, toxicologists and other public health experts, concluded that long-term exposure to PM2.5 are a cause of both cardiovascular mortality and morbidity,” says the more recent 2013 WHO – World Health Organization report “Review of evidence on health aspects of air pollution – REVIHAAP.”

“Emerging evidence also suggests possible links between long-term PM2.5 exposure and neurodevelopment and cognitive function as well as other chronic disease conditions such as diabetes,” continues the report.

One U.S. California family physician, Dr. Richard Saint Cyr who followed his wife who had a work transfer to Beijing, is now working in the Beijing Family Hospital. The doctor has also been urging the city’s population to wear protective masks outside. “If you must go outside, at least consider a proper N95-rated mask,” says Dr. Saint Cyr.

Dr. Saint Cyr recently tweeted about an online game called China Air Pollution Jeopardy. Encouraging his Twitter followers to jump into the game. One of the Jeopardy questions asks: “How many times worse is the air quality in Beijing, China versus New York City?” The answer is shocking. The air quality in Beijing is 16 times worse than New York.

“This is the highest toll in the world and it really reflects the very high level of air pollution that exists in China today,” said Vice-President of the (U.S.) Boston based HEI – Health Effects Institute Robert O’Keefe at a meeting of experts on air pollution in Beijing last March (2013) that brought in Tsinghua University. This meeting in Beijing was sponsored by the China Sustainable Energy Program which is part of the Energy Foundation.

Ultra-fine particles in toxic air is also an important element that is causing negative impacts. Especially to the lungs outlines the Health Effects Institute. “There is extensive evidence today that the complex mix of fine airborne particulate matter, PM2.5 (or particles less than 2.5 microns in diameter), can contribute to cardiovascular, respiratory and other health effects,” says HEI President Dan Greenbaum.

Not surprisingly two thirds of all deaths from air pollution are now occurring in Asia, outlines NPR – National Public Radio. What is the main reason for China’s pollution problems? “Growth,” says NPR.

Commercial airlines have also been greatly impacted by the increasing pollution in the city.

The current strategy to replace coal with newer ‘clean energy technology’ is part of a dedicated plan that hopes to move forward for China’s capital city by 2015.

According to the Real-time Air Quality Index (AQI) Beijing is ranked close to the top in China for toxic air quality and pollution, second only to the city of Tianjin.

“Beijing resembled an airport smokers’ lounge in mid-January, and some foreigners called the persistent and omnipresent smog an “airpocalypse.” outlined The New York Times last April 2013 in coverage on the January pollution that has continued to plague the region.

Eliminating the use of coal-fired boilers as a production chain for energy is the hope of many environmentalists. Ash slagging and fouling, along with incidents of unmanageable slag buildup in the furnace and convective pass slagging have become too common in many of the U.S. based coal based powerplants causing a higher risk in the release of arsenic, mercury, lead, and over a dozen other heavy metals into the public waterways and air. Coal based powerplants in China are also especially plagued with the same problem as coal with higher toxic metals from certain global suppliers are released into the atmosphere.

China has worked on reducing it use of coal down to 700,000 metric tons last year. The city of Beijing now plans to cut another 1.4 million tons this year, and use no more than 21.5 million tons of coal, as part of the 2013 coal consumption reduction plan released by the city’s Environmental Protection Bureau and Commission of Development and Reform.

The last five coal-fired boilers in Beijing’s Shougang Machinery Company’s heavy machinery branch in the Shijingshan district were shut down in March 2013. This makes Shijingshan the third city district that is now not using coal-powered heating. Beijing’s city disticts of Xicheng and Dongcheng have also previously stopped their use of coal for energy production.

Accelerated debates by the government in the use of coal, hydro, thermal and/or nuclear energy are growing in China as alternative clean energy solutions are beginning to make their way into a more popular solution in the public eye for energy production inside China. The Clean Energy Expo 2013 will be happening in Beijing July 3 to July 5, 2013 at the China International Exhibition Center and is expected to bring over 800 delegates and 20,000 trade visitors to the city.


While Chinese investments in renewable energy has been charted as more than U.S. investments, China continues to have serious problems from regional damage to the its own local environment. This 2:50 min January 2013 YouTube release by NTDonChina (Tang Dynasty Television) highlights the dichotomy of supporting global green energy solutions as well as allowing regional pollution problems to continue expanding at the same time.


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