China smog spreading to Japan

Published On February 1, 2013 | By HN Staff | News
By Tatiana Patterson

Smog that has engulfed China the last couple of days is now spreading to parts of Japan, according to The Asahi Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper.

The pollution pandemic has been sweeping through China as coal consumption continues to be the biggest business in the country.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration released statistics that show China consumes almost as much coal as the rest of the world combined. According to that information, China consumes about 3.8 billion tonnes while global consumption is at 4.3 billion tonnes.

Dust and debris from mining and burning coal is causing the smog to grow even thicker, according to an article on BBC China.

South China Morning Post, a Chinese newspaper, issued warnings in an article this morning that told the public that air particles could reach 40 micrograms per cubic metre in Japan. That’s twice the level usually seen in Japan at this time of year.

Eugene Nagishima, resident of Osaka, Japan, said that smog travelling from China would be bad for Japan but doesn’t see it making much difference to a country that is already so polluted.

“I don’t know if it will affect us much,” said Nagashima, 21. “We get smog every summer. If it gets worse than I think a lot of people will have allergic reactions. Lung cancer is a big concern, too.”

Nagashima suffers from asthma and said that he often gets asthma attacks.

“I get them at least once every two months,” he said. “I think it’s because I live in the city. Osaka is pretty polluted.”

Living in polluted air can have major impacts on health, with Hepatitis C being the main concern, said Jason Powell, Dean of Humber’s School of Health Sciences.

“Pollution spans a breath of challenges, not the least of which include the respiratory and cardiac systems,” he said.

Powell also said although the increases in risks may not depend on age, there are definitely more damaging effects where children are involved.

“If an adult who has managed to be on this planet for 50 or 60 years is exposed to some increases in pollution and acquires some condition because of it, they are more likely t0 have more reserves to fight it off and be healthier,” said Powell. “Whereas if a child gets Hepatitis C at an early age, that could be catastrophically damaging.”

Though not to this extent, Pierre Desrochers, U of T associate professor for the Department of Geography, said Canadian cities have also seen extreme pollution.

“Air pollution in Toronto a century ago was probably worse [than China],” said Desrochers. “Coal in Toronto was very polluting. It was later replaced with heavy oil, natural gas and other things that came along.”

Desrochers told Humber News of an old photo he found advertising homes when Toronto was still polluted. The photo shows a couple searching for homes near huge factories.

An ad that appeared in Toronto encouraging families to live near huge factories covered with pollution. Photo courtesy of Pierre Desrochers, associate Professor in the Department of Geography at University of Toronto.

An ad that appeared in Toronto encouraging families to live near huge factories covered with pollution. Photo courtesy of Pierre Desrochers, associate Professor in the Department of Geography at University of Toronto.

“The problem is, like China, people would rather have a job in a polluted environment than no job in a cleaner environment,” said Desrochers. “Not only is coal [China’s] cheapest alternative and they burn tons of it to produce cheap electricity, but apparently they’re not very good at turning on their pollution screening devices.”

Despite all the negative attention China has received for their polluted air, the country is trying to do some good.

Keith Stewart, climate and energy campaign coordinator at Greenpeace Canada, says China is among the countries building towards a cleaner economy.

“China is now the largest investor in the world in renewable energy,” said Stewart. “They’re bringing in tougher green house gas emissions targets than Canada has.”

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