Beijing’s Air Quality Continues to Show Significant Improvement
Official figures from the Chinese government show that Beijing's ongoing seven-year "war on pollution" has netted significantly improved air quality in the capital city, as the South China Morning Post reported.
Data released by the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Ecology and Environment showed that concentrations of fine particulate matter known as PM2.5 fell 14.3 percent in the first 11 months of 2019, according to Xinhua. That is the lowest level since an integrated air quality-monitoring network was launched in 2013.
When the air quality-monitoring network started in 2013, the average concentration of PM2.5 was 89.5 micrograms per cubic meter. In 2019, that number plummeted to an average concentration of 42 micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic meter, a 53 per cent reduction in air pollution, according to the municipal ecology and environment bureau, as the South China Morning Post reported. The trend held for concentrations of nitrogen dioxide and concentrations of the larger PM10 pollution as well.
Those numbers back up earlier findings from the Swiss firm IQAir AirVisual, which installed sensors on the U.S. embassy in Beijing. That report said Beijing's concentrations of fine particulate matter had fallen to its lowest levels since record keeping began in 2008, as The Washington Post reported. Those improvements mean the Chinese capital may soon be removed from the list of the 200 most polluted cities in the world.
The pollution levels are still far higher than what is considered healthy. The 2019 average concentration of PM2.5 in Beijing of 42 micrograms per cubic meter was still above the China's national air quality standard of 35, and far beyond the World Health Organization's recommended upper limit of 10, according to the South China Morning Post.
And yet, the rapid and drastic improvement is being touted for what is possible when government policies push for a cleaner environment.
"No other city or region on the planet has achieved such a feat," said Joyce Msuya, the deputy executive director of the UN's environment program, as the South China Morning Post reported. She added that the accomplishment was the result of "an enormous investment of time, resources and political will."
A March report from Msuya's department at the UN looked at 20 years of pollution data from 1998 to 2017. It found that controls on coal-fired boilers, the use of cleaner fuels in residential sectors, and tighter regulations on industry were the three most important measures to improving Beijing's air quality, according to the South China Morning Post.
While Beijing's air has shown significant and rapid improvement, other areas of China are heading in the opposite direction as other provinces have sought to spur growth during an economic slowdown, according to Lauri Myllyvirta of Greenpeace, as The Washington Post reported.
Myllyvirta told The Washington Post that nitrogen oxide emissions went up in northern China's industrial belt, which accompanied a growth in cement and steel production to meet the demand of government-funded construction.
"Old-fashioned smokestack industries are increasing in share and importance" in regions such as Hebei province, said Myllyvirta, as The Washington Post reported. "The pressure to hit GDP targets in the short term is a big part of it."
In Beijing, the war on pollution has meant authorities shuttered all coal-fired plants, encouraged residents to replace coal-fired boilers with natural gas and electricity, and invested in electric vehicles, as the South China Morning Post reported.
That action has also led to a drop in sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere. It fell 85 percent from 28 micrograms per cubic meter in 2013 to 4 in 2019, according the South China Morning Post.
However, while Beijing's air quality is improving, some worry that the Chinese government will invest in environmentally deleterious industries abroad in poorer, developing markets to supply its worldwide infrastructure projects, as the The Washington Post reported.
For example, China has struck deals to build hundreds of coal-fired power plants across developing markets from Pakistan to the Philippines.
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By Kristen Fischer
It's going to be back-to-school time soon, but will children go into the classrooms?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks so, but only as long as safety measures are in place.
Keeping Schools Safe<p>What will safer schools look like?</p><p>In a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2766822" target="_blank">JAMA article</a> published last month, <a href="https://www.jhsph.edu/faculty/directory/profile/1781/joshua-m-sharfstein" target="_blank">Dr. Joshua Sharfstein</a>, a pediatrician and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, outlined suggestions — many of which are similar to AAP's.</p><p>Remote learning protocols must stay in place, especially as some schools stagger home and in-building learning. If another shutdown needs to occur, children will rely on distance learning completely, so it must be easy to switch to, he said.</p><p>He suggested giving parents a daily checklist to document their child's health. Kids should be screened quickly on arrival and be given hygiene supplies. Maintenance staff should use appropriate PPE and have regular cleaning schedules. A notification system should be in place if a case is identified, Sharfstein recommended.</p><p><a href="https://www.albany.edu/rockefeller/faculty/erika-martin" target="_blank">Erika Martin</a>, PhD, an associate professor of public administration and policy at University at Albany, said nutrition assistance and health services should be included. She called for tutoring programs with virtual options as well as technology access.</p>
Supporting Staff<p>Teachers and staff will be affected by safeguarding measures, noted <a href="https://directory.sph.umn.edu/bio/sph-a-z/rachel-widome" target="_blank">Rachel Widome</a>, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at University of Minnesota.</p><p>"In order for all of the in-school precautions to work well, we'll be asking a lot of teachers and staff," Widome told Healthline. In addition to their usual workload, they'll now be asked to monitor mask-wearing, ensure children are keeping distance, and be aware of any symptoms.</p><p>Along with Sharfstein, Widome called for an increase in financial support. More employees will likely be required so teachers and staff members can keep up with the added demands.</p>
Should Kids Go Back?<p>While these guidelines may help get some schools to reopen, many people don't think children should go back to school over fears they could contract the disease and spread it to other vulnerable family members like grandparents, infant siblings, or their parents.</p><p>In a <a href="https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2020/07/08/peds.2020-004879" target="_blank">Pediatrics</a> commentary, <a href="https://www.md.com/doctor/william-raszka-md" target="_blank">Dr. William V. Raszka, Jr.</a>, an infectious disease specialist at The University of Vermont Medical Center, argued that schools should open because school-aged children are far less important drivers of COVID-19 than adults.</p><p>But he says the risk and benefit is not equal among all students ages 5 to 18.</p><p>"Elementary schools are arguably higher priority for face-to-face schooling, since younger children are at lower risk for infection and transmission, and since parental supervision of younger children's distance learning may be particularly challenging," added Sorensen, who penned a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/channels/health-forum/fullarticle/2767411" target="_blank">June article in JAMA</a> with reopening tips. "That means middle and high schools are more likely to emphasize distance learning."</p><p>Specific student populations, such as special education students and students with disabilities, would also benefit greatly from more time spent in face-to-face environments, Sorensen said.</p>
What Parents Can Do<p>Parents should ask for and receive frequent updates from schools about plans for the fall. They should also be informed about plans if and when COVID infections are identified, Sharfstein said.</p><p>"I'd like to see parents investing now, during the summer, in doing things that can slow and stop the spread of the virus in their communities," Widome said.</p><p>"Now is a good time for kids to practice wearing masks and get used to them as they may be wearing them for longer stretches if school starts up in person," Widome suggested.</p><p>She recommends parents try different mask designs and materials to see what children are more comfortable wearing.</p><p>"If you are using cloth face coverings, it's good to have extras on hand," Widome added.</p><p>Parents should model healthy behavior at home and while out in public — another thing that could affect how well children adapt to reopening practices, Sorensen said.</p><p>"Children may want to know more about face coverings," added <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/leescott/" target="_blank">Lee Scott</a>, chairwoman of the Educational Advisory Board at <a href="https://www.goddardschool.com/" target="_blank">The Goddard School</a>. "Dramatic play, such as creating or wearing a face covering, may help some children adjust to this concept." Schools can also show children photos of what faculty members look like in their masks so the students are familiar with that appearance.</p><p>Johns Hopkins University recently released its eSchool+ Initiative, a slew of resources surrounding education during the pandemic. These include a <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-checklist/" target="_blank">checklist for administrators</a>, report on <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/ethics-of-reopening/" target="_blank">ethical considerations</a>, and a tracker of <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-policy-tracker/" target="_blank">state and local reopening plans</a>.</p>
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<div id="fea63" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9a6f211c2bc5aedd34837944cb8eeedf"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1281000111481294849" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Water in Illinois is overwhelmingly public. Why is Tammy Duckworth sponsoring a bill that aims to change that? https://t.co/1V36Kkd99s</div> — The American Prospect (@The American Prospect)<a href="https://twitter.com/TheProspect/statuses/1281000111481294849">1594249201.0</a></blockquote></div>
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