Made in China: Air pollution travels across the Pacific to U.S. West Coast

China air pollution map

Manufacturing things for US and Europe main source

People living in China are the main victims of the country's horrendous pollution problems, no doubt about it. But a lot of that pollution travels on powerful winds that can sometimes carry pollutants across the gigantic Pacific ocean in mere days, causing contaminant spikes on North-America's West coast, especially in the spring. While responsibility for cleaning this up mostly lies with China, something that they can do by cleaning up their energy supply and tightening their environmental standards for things like manufacturing and transportation, there is plenty of blame to spread around.

Researchers at Peking University, Tsinghua University, Argonne National Laboratory, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the University of Leeds in England, and U.C. Irvine have for the first time, in a new study, attempted to quantify how much of the pollution reaching the American West Coast is from the production in China consumer items that are then imported to the U.S., Europe, and elsewhere.

China smog© Lloyd Alter

Los Angeles experiences at least one extra day a year of smog that exceeds federal ozone limits because of nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide emitted by Chinese factories making goods for export, the analysis found. On other days, as much as a quarter of the sulfate pollution on the U.S. West Coast is tied to Chinese exports. All the contaminants tracked in the study are key ingredients in unhealthy smog and soot.

China is not responsible for the lion’s share of pollution in the U.S. Cars, trucks and refineries pump out far more. But powerful global winds known as “westerlies” can push airborne chemicals across the ocean in days, particularly during the spring, causing dangerous spikes in contaminants. Dust, ozone and carbon can accumulate in valleys and basins in California and other Western states. (source)

One of the most problematic pollutants is black carbon, because rain doesn't wash it from the air easily, so it can travel for longer distances. It has been linked to increased asthma, cancer, emphysema, heart and lung disease. Not good, obviously.

This type of research will hopefully be useful to negotiate clean-air treaties and help Chinese citizens breathe better, as well as those who live where some of China's pollution is 'exported'.

China air pollution map© UCI

Via U.C. Irvine, GCC

See also: This scary map shows the health impacts of coal power plants in China

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