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Why Does China Have So Much Smog?

by Kevin Lee, Demand Media
    Real clouds and smog clouds often hover over Chinese cities.

    Real clouds and smog clouds often hover over Chinese cities.

    In January of 2013, China warned residents to stay indoors because air quality was the worst it had been in recent history. A satellite photo of the country showed extensive smog that hid cities from view. China's bustling economy may capture the world's attention, but so does the country's smog problem, which doesn't seem to go away.

    Microns Matter

    When the size of airborne particulate matter reaches 2.5 microns or less, the air becomes dangerous to breathe. Particulate matter consists of liquid droplets and microscopic solids. At 2.5 microns it can be particularly unhealthy because it consists of compounds such as chemicals, metals, dust and acid. Micron size reached 2.5 during the January 2013 smog outbreak.

    Complicating Factors

    In addition to experiencing particulate matter problems, Chinese residents faced a hazardous air quality index on January 12. A good value for the AQI index is 50 or below. When it exceeds 300, air becomes unsafe to breathe. The index hit a staggering value of 775 that day.

    Unfortunate Smog Effects

    During the January incident, Chinese air was so bad that hospital admissions increased by up to 30 percent as people reported respiratory problems. Haze over China also affects food production by absorbing sunlight that plants on the ground need. NASA notes that China's air problem has gotten worse over the last 20 years. That coincides with large-scale urbanization in the country.

    Humans Help Cause the Haze

    NASA reports that China's air quality issues probably result from burning coal and other types of fuels. Ash and soot are unwanted byproducts of the coal that the Chinese use in their industries; fuel they burn in their homes is often dirty. China's farming practices don't help either, because farmers burn crop debris when the growing season ends. Acid deposits and other pollutants also contribute to the country's air woes.

    Travel Advisory Tips

    If you're planning a trip to China, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that most major Chinese cities have air pollution. If you breathe the air, it's possible that it may exacerbate asthma and other respiratory conditions. If you are susceptible to respiratory problems, the CDC suggests getting a pneumococcal vaccination and bringing inhaled medications if you use them. The agency also asks everyone to get a flu shot before going to China.

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    About the Author

    After majoring in physics, Kevin Lee began writing professionally in 1989 when, as a software developer, he also created technical articles for the Johnson Space Center. Today this urban Texas cowboy continues to crank out high-quality software as well as non-technical articles covering a multitude of diverse topics ranging from gaming to current affairs.

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