Shanghai Reaches Hazardous Air Pollution Levels

One of China’s largest cities, Shanghai, reached record levels of air pollution last week. By December 6, the city was shrouded in thick layers of smog, which were high in pollutants and low in visibility. The opaque air obscured the city skyline, and citizens wore face masks for protection.

The city’s air pollution index ranged between 23 and 31 times greater than the international standard, causing the Shanghai government to issue its severest health warning. Airports delayed and eventually cancelled hundreds of flights. Schools suspended outdoor activities, and some were even forced to close. People at the highest risk—those with heart or lung disease, children, and seniors—were advised to stay home.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Environmental protection agencies (EPAs) in China have been monitoring the pollution levels more cautiously since the crisis. (An air quality index monitor regulated by the Shanghai Environmental Monitoring Center can be accessed here.) Air quality has been an issue of increasing concern in China, ever since the country began industrializing. Factories and auto emissions are both major contributors to rising pollution levels.

Many Chinese citizens question whether such an environment is fit for habitation. While some say the severe air pollution was caused by unfavorable weather conditions, many blame the Chinese government for poor regulation of industrial emission.

The Chinese government is devising clean air reforms and ways to more effectively implement them. China is also receiving advice from the United States. U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy is visiting Shanghai to evaluate the situation and discuss solutions with Chinese government officials. Goals include eliminating greenhouse gases, limiting the production of HFCs, and striving for low vehicle emissions.

“While I am all too well aware of the severe air quality challenges that China now faces, I see these challenges as ones where the United States can truly speak from experience in support of China’s efforts to reduce air pollution,” said McCarthy.

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