On New Year's day, in an article updated on Monday, the South China Morning Post filed a detailed report on China's air pollution-driven smog, which as of Monday was literally off the charts in Beijing. Any reading above 300 is dangerous to human health:
The air quality index released by the municipal environmental protection bureau on Sunday hit 482, almost touching the 500 mark where the scale tops out, and far beyond the point deemed hazardous to health. The US embassy gives its own reading for air pollution in the capital, and said levels were well beyond 500.
More than a dozen other cities including Tianjin and others in neighbouring Hebei and Shandong provinces also saw smog return to dangerous levels.
Stations in Qinhuangdao and Shijiangzhuang in Hebei, and Taiyuan in Shanxi saw readings rise above 500. A few other cities in Shandong and Hebei saw levels climb past 400.
Beijing issued an orange alert for air pollution on Thursday that was extended to Wednesday. Heavy polluting vehicles and trucks carrying construction waste are banned from roads and some manufacturing firms have cut production.
Now is this smog the same as the toxic "yellow dust" that sweeps into Beijing annually and also affects nearby countries? No. This is yellow dust:
It's not actually dust; it's sandstorms off the Gobi Desert every Spring mixing with high levels of pollutants including sulphur, which turns the sand yellow. The phenomenon is exacerbated by desertification, meaning there's increasingly less distance between the cities and deserts.
For a detailed discussion of China's yellow dust, see my March 2010 post, Convergence, Part 2: Yellow Dust.
Meanwhile, Mainland Chinese are being killed in large numbers by routine smog, as the SCMP report notes. And from a February 2015 report by Blouin News on yellow dust (now only available on my blog):
China faces huge environmental and air-cleanup challenges and costs, which it is undertaking on its own. The country estimates that pollution cost it roughly 3.5% of GDP in 2010, according to a study by the Council on Foreign Relations, and life expectancy in the north has decreased about 5.5 years due to air pollution.For more on China's routine smog, see SCMP for related reports such as How China’s quick blue-sky fixes make pollution worse and How bad will the air pollution get? Don't ask China’s supercomputers.
By the way, the air pollution in India's capital city of New Delhi and several other India's cities is almost as bad as that found in Beijing, as this December 19 report from the Times of India and scores of other recent reports indicate. However, the Guardian reported that air pollution in Varanasi, India's "holy city" is the most toxic in the nation:
Levels of airborne pollution across north Indian plains routinely higher than in the capital, Delhi, researchers warnWhat about using smog-sucking towers, of the kind installed in Beijing? They're virtually useless; I think they're for show:
The Chinese Forum of Environmental Justice (CFEJ) has claimed that the towers do not meet World Health Organization standards, calling the structures "smog warning towers."
The CFEJ acknowledges that the towers do help to filter the air, but contend that that they are unstable and only cover a limited area.
Environmental experts told state-owned China News that "the weight of the machine’s captured particulate matter per hour is less than that of a spoonful of salt."********