Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Toxic Smog Puts Cancer as Leading Cause of Death in China

Climate
Toxic Smog Puts Cancer as Leading Cause of Death in China

Beijing's 21-million residents live in a toxic fog of particulate matter, ozone, sulphur dioxide, mercury, cadmium, lead and other contaminants, mainly caused by factories and coal burning. Schools and workplaces regularly shut down when pollution exceeds hazardous levels. People have exchanged paper and cotton masks for more elaborate, filtered respirators. Cancer has become the leading cause of death in the city and throughout the country.

Beijing's 21-million residents live in a toxic fog of particulate matter, ozone, sulphur dioxide, mercury, cadmium, lead and other contaminants, mainly caused by factories and coal burning.Shutterstock

Chinese authorities, often reluctant to admit to the extent of any problem, can no longer deny the catastrophic consequences of rampant industrial activity and inadequate regulations. According to Bloomberg News, Beijing's Centre for Disease Control and Prevention says that, although life expectancy doubled from 1949 to 2011, “the average 18-year-old Beijinger today should prepare to spend as much as 40 percent of those remaining, long years in less than full health, suffering from cancer, cardiovascular disease and arthritis, among other ailments."

China's government also estimates that air pollution prematurely kills from 350,000 to 500,000 residents every year. Water and soil pollution are also severe throughout China. The documentary film Under the Dome, by Chinese journalist Chai Jing, shows the extent of the air problem. The film was viewed by more than 150 million Chinese in its first few days, apparently with government approval. Later it was censored, showing how conflicted authorities are over the problem and its possible solutions. The pollution problem also demonstrates the ongoing global conflict between economic priorities and human and environmental health.

Rather than seeing China's situation as a warning, many people in Canada and the U.S.—including in government—refuse to believe we could end up in a similar situation here. And so U.S. politicians fight to block pollution-control regulations and even to remove the power of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or shut it down altogether! In Canada, politicians and pundits argue that environmental protection is too costly and that the economy takes precedence.

Some people even point to China as a reason for Canada not to do anything, arguing that what we do or don't do to confront climate change and pollution will make little difference because our contributions pale in comparison to countries like China and India. But while Canada's air quality is better than many places, half of us live in areas where we are exposed to unsafe levels of air pollution. According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, “Short and long term exposure to air pollution are estimated to result in 21,000 premature deaths in Canada in 2008 as well as 620,000 doctor visits, 92,000 emergency department visits, 11,000 hospital admissions and an annual economic impact of over $8 billion."

And, as we know, air doesn't stay within national boundaries. The global atmosphere is being loaded with the sum of all nations' activities.

As for greenhouse gas emissions, Canada may contribute less than two percent of overall global emissions, but we have the highest emissions per capita—more than the U.S. and Russia and close to three times the global average. Even with a small population compared to many countries, we're in the top 10 for overall emissions. Don't we have a moral responsibility to reduce our share?

We can and should do more to curb pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, especially as demands from industry and a growing population continue to increase. That means making homes and workplaces more energy-efficient and driving less. Transportation is a major contributor to air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. But, despite the fact that a large percentage of the emissions and pollution come from SUVs, trucks and vans, sales of those vehicles are rising while car sales are decreasing.

As individuals, we can take action to reduce pollution and emissions, but greater gains should be made at the policy level. Creating good transit and transportation infrastructure that gets people out of their cars is a huge step, as is offering incentives to improve energy efficiency in homes and buildings. Regulations to limit industrial pollution are also necessary.

We may never experience the kind of deadly pollution China is struggling with, but we can do a lot to make sure our air, water and soil are as clean as possible, now and into the future. We must do our part.

The new variant, known as B.1.1.7, spread quickly through southeastern England in December, causing case numbers to spike and triggering stricter lockdown measures. Hollie Adams / Getty Images

By Suresh Dhaniyala and Byron Erath

A fast-spreading variant of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has been found in at least 10 states, and people are wondering: How do I protect myself now?

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A seagull flies in front of the Rampion offshore wind farm in the United Kingdom. Neil / CC BY 2.0

By Tara Lohan

A key part of the United States' clean energy transition has started to take shape, but you may need to squint to see it. About 2,000 wind turbines could be built far offshore, in federal waters off the Atlantic Coast, in the next 10 years. And more are expected.

Read More Show Less

Trending

By Frank La Sorte and Kyle Horton

Millions of birds travel between their breeding and wintering grounds during spring and autumn migration, creating one of the greatest spectacles of the natural world. These journeys often span incredible distances. For example, the Blackpoll warbler, which weighs less than half an ounce, may travel up to 1,500 miles between its nesting grounds in Canada and its wintering grounds in the Caribbean and South America.

Read More Show Less
Kevin Maillefer / Unsplash

By Lynne Peeples

Editor's note: This story is part of a nine-month investigation of drinking water contamination across the U.S. The series is supported by funding from the Park Foundation and Water Foundation. Read the launch story, "Thirsting for Solutions," here.

In late September 2020, officials in Wrangell, Alaska, warned residents who were elderly, pregnant or had health problems to avoid drinking the city's tap water — unless they could filter it on their own.

Read More Show Less
Eat Just's cell-based chicken nugget is now served at Singapore restaurant 1880. Eat Just, Inc.

At a time of impending global food scarcity, cell-based meats and seafood have been heralded as the future of food.

Read More Show Less