Heavy pollution causing Chinese 'airpocalypse'

The government pledges to cut vehicle emissions, but critics point to the nation's questionable fuel standards.

By Bruce Kennedy Jan 16, 2013 9:09AM

Credit: Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images
Caption: Traffic makes its way through Beijing on January 12, 2013. Air quality data released via the US embassy twitter feed recorded air quality index levels so hazardous that they were classed as 'Beyond Index'. Just after midday the particle matter (PM) 2.5 figure was 519 on a scale that stops at 500, and advises against all outdoor activityChina may have the world's fastest-growing auto industry, but with that success come some incredible pollution problems.

Air pollution levels were literally off the charts in Beijing over the weekend, reportedly reducing visibility to about 100 yards in some areas and prompting some flight cancellations. Residents in several Chinese cities have been advised to stay indoors. At least four deaths have been blamed on what Chinese media calls the "smoggy weather" -- including two high school students who were hit by a train due to low visibility.

The Australian says work at dozens of construction sites and a car factory in the Chinese capital have been halted in an effort to ease the air pollution.

The air quality is so bad -- some foreigners in China have been referring to it on social media as the "Airpocalypse" -- that government media have been joining Internet users in questioning China's rapid path to economic growth.

"China's pollution is accumulating," said a recent editorial in the country’s Global Times. "The general reason is that China's process of industrialization has not finished and infrastructure construction is rising. China is still the biggest construction site in the world. At the same time, it is a veritable global factory. Against this background, it is impossible for China to be as clean as the West."

"However," the editorial continues, "recent atmospheric pollution has really sounded a warning to us: if we continue this way of development instead of adjusting it, the long-term damage will be serious."

The official Xinhua News Agency says China has pledged to "vigorously" curb vehicle exhaust emissions. A spokesman for the nation’s Ministry of Environmental Protection told Xinhua the government will "take effective measures to limit the total amount of nitrogen oxide emitted by vehicles and intensify supervision over the production, use and elimination of motor vehicles."

A major part of China’s air pollution problem is the quality of the fuel used in its cars, trucks and other vehicles.

The Los Angeles Times reports fuel standards in the People’s Republic allow for three times the amount of noxious sulfur as in the United States, and five times as much compared to European standards.

But China's state-run oil companies have the ultimate say over fuel quality standards. "Without pressure, it will be difficult to get the oil companies to change," Ma Jun, head of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs in Beijing, tells the Times. "They’re a very powerful monopoly."

The global management consulting firm McKinsey says China’s expanding economy and rising rates of personal income should fuel passenger car sales there -- which are expected to grow 8%, to 22 million annually, by the end of 2020.

U.S. automakers are also making inroads in China. General Motors (GM), the largest foreign car-maker in China, reported its sales there increased 9.7% in November.

"Carmakers, at least the global ones, are definitely prepared for any technical upgrades the [Chinese] government might demand," Michael Dunne, founder of the auto marketing firm Dunne & Company, told the Times. "The key problem has always been, and remains, fuel quality. Even the most advanced engines cannot produce clean exhaust when the fuel quality is second-rate."

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Jan 16, 2013 12:18PM

China is a overpopulated cess pool, producing worthless low quality junk.  Buy anything, but Chineese made garbage.

Jan 16, 2013 12:49PM

I thought the USA was suppose to be the largest contributor to global warming? Can the world Carbon tax China?

Jan 16, 2013 12:31PM
Just read where Walmart is going to spend $50 billion buying and stocking American made products in their stores. So Solly, china!!
Jan 16, 2013 1:08PM
serves them right for not caring about the atmosphere. china is a disgrace environmentally! choke on that **** i say!
Jan 16, 2013 1:39PM
Then the US sucks on that pollution when it crosses the Pacific. We should help China with their pollution problems and stop buying their crap. 
Jan 16, 2013 1:35PM

I hear al gore is going to help out.  On national tv he is going to turn off one of his 10 wt bulbs to make a difference (but only for 5 minutes).

Jan 16, 2013 2:22PM

"China's pollution is accumulating," said a recent editorial in the country’s . "The general reason is that China's process of industrialization has not finished and infrastructure construction is rising. China is still the biggest construction site in the world. At the same time, it is a veritable global factory. Against this background, it is impossible for China to be as clean as the West."


"Because we have no envronmental or safety laws, we have grown to become the world's factory.  So, you can't expect us to be as clean as the West."


 Self-fulfillilng logic.

Jan 16, 2013 1:37PM
Can't wait to see what the health care costs end up being there, as well as how people will evolve to live in such a polluted environment.
Jan 16, 2013 2:23PM
China will build the first coal burning car
Jan 16, 2013 2:19PM
Lets send them billions in aide and see if that works!
Jan 16, 2013 2:41PM

Many things are low quality from China. Add fuel to the list. If they use "made in china" gas masks, soon USA products will be easy to find.

Jan 16, 2013 2:14PM
If we boycott China, where will our military get their necessities? They get more than combat boots from there.  
Jan 16, 2013 3:24PM
Guess they didn't learn any lessons from California or West Coast Large cities...
Jan 16, 2013 1:04PM
China regulating!   Sorry Tea Baggers, it's everywhere now. How could they. In your perfect world there shouldn't be any! (right wingers) or is the left finally right.  Better ask Fox news to spin this for you..
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