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The Year of the Smog

HONG KONG (UCAN): Northern and northeastern China welcomed 2017 as the Year of the Smog, experiencing heavy pollution in 61 cities. However, this is not a surprising event, as it is in keeping with the predictions of a study by the World Health Organisation that shows China home to the deadliest outdoor air pollution in the world.

The China Meteorological Administration issued an orange alert prior to New Year’s Eve, which deteriorated into a red alert on January 4.

However, while a week later blue skies dominated the horizons, smog has become the talk of the city since the Beijing city government issued a red alert in mid-December. The education bureau has suggested that schools shorten class time or even suspend them altogether.

“The smog comes more frequently and we don’t know how many school days would be left in the future,” Mary Li, a tutor, was quoted as saying.

Outdoor activities are affected. People are inhaling polluted air that contains a type of tiny, dangerous pollutant known as PM2.5, which is small enough to pass from the lungs into the bloodstream. Hospitals and clinics have been packed in recent weeks.

Wang, a clerk at a supermarket, believes the smog turned serious five years ago. “People used to buy surgical masks. But now they all look for the professional ones used on construction sites,” she related.

Last September, the World Health Organisation released a report about air pollution levels and named China as the most deadly for outdoor air pollution.

The report was conduct by 16 scientists from eight international organisations. They analysed samples of the miniscule PM2.5 particles, mainly produced by vehicles and factories, from 3,000 locations around the world. Part of their discovery is that over three million people have died from air pollution, with over one third of them from China.

“The environmental issue remains conceptual for many people. The World Health Organisation report is not to scare us, but to tell in a concrete way the social cost of air pollution,” Albert Lai, from the CarbonCare InnoLab, an environmental non-government organisation in Hong Kong, said.

“It means life and health. It also points out the problem of ignoring the environment for economic development, like China has,” he reflected.

Although China has the highest level of carbon emission in the world, Lai noted it also has the fastest growth rate of investment in renewable energy and he believes there will be a turning point.

However, in the race between economic growth and caring for the environment, some people still believe smog is unavoidable in the process of economic development.

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