China’s State of Atmosphere

China’s State of Atmosphere

Primary Air Pollution Problems and Its’ Sources With Relation To Other Environmental Issues in China


As defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), air pollution is the contagion of the outdoor and indoor atmosphere by any chemical, biological, or physical substance. These substances modify the normal distinctiveness of the atmospheric air leading to its pollution. Common sources of air pollution include vehicles, forest fires, combustion devices in the households, and industrial facilities. The pollutants, which are of major public concern, include the particulate matter, ozone, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide among others1.The indoor and outdoor air pollution can lead to respiratory problems, which can sometimes be fatal.

China is the largest and fourth largest in terms of population and area respectively. Chinas’ already huge economy is growing at a high rate as compared to any other major nation. However, the countries environmental problems are severe as compared to any other major country. These environmental conditions are getting worse as the country develops its industries. Many of the citizens and leaders of China are aware of the prevailing problem and made some progress in handling it2.  Some of the issues such as air quality in Beijing have improved but more efforts needs to be put in place to control the pollution.

China has a greater environmental problem as compared to other developed country. After an environmental sustainability evaluation was conducted, China was ranked number 129, which was higher than Nigeria only. The country is below the ecological footprint, which is the measure of consumption of natural resources against output of waste. China ecological footprint is second largest mainly due to a high population. Air quality is generally low in the country owing to the industrial wastes and gases3. The emission of dust and industrial soot has been increasing over the few years. In addition, practices such as farming for food sustenance are as capable as industrial emissions in causing air pollution.

The environmental problems of China are also spoiling to other countries through pollution and globalization. With the country’s’ high contribution of chlorofluorocarbons and sulphur oxides to the atmosphere, these aerial pollutants are transported eastwards through the air to other neighboring countries. The air pollution problem is not only affecting China but also other countries as far as North America4. It is impossible for a country like China to contain the air pollution to China only rather all the country can do is to control the causes of the pollution and reduce the health and physical problems that results from air pollution.

Primary problems of air pollution

The air pollution is China has led to some primary Problems. From health problems to climatic changes, the high levels of atmospheric pollution are hazardous and above levels recommended by environmentalists. The country has many industries and factories, which emit high levels of gases every day to the atmosphere. The problem is that controlling the air pollution would mean controlling the emissions from these industries, which would in turn affect the economy2. However, the negative effects of the pollution are putting a strain on the economy as a whole. The country is spending much resource in controlling diseases caused by air pollution as well the climatic changes, which affect economic activities.

Health problems

In a study by Tan et al. in South Asia, the researchers concluded that atmospheric contamination and other air pollutants produce unfavorable health effects at small concentrations5.  Residents in communities with high levels of PM10 (particles equal to or less than a diameter of 10 micrometers) show a faster decline in lung function, cardiovascular disease and chronic respiratory. Following the civil war in China and the Second World War, deforestation, overgrazing and soil erosion occurred in China. The leap forward of 1958-1960 increased factories and industries. To obtain fuel for the factories and industries, deforestation increased. This left the grasslands and the farming lands bare and susceptible to soil erosion by water and air. Dust clouds are common in China leading to a high concentration of PM106.

When haemoglobin combines with carbon monoxide, the amount of oxygen that enters the human body is affected. Less oxygen in the body affects the binding process with other haemeproteins causing changes in the functionality of organs such as the brain. Brain effects impair one concentration. Sulphur dioxide can oxidize to form sulphuric acid leading to a mist. This leads to diseases such as lung cancer and respiratory problems7. The Ozone gases makes the eyes itch and leads to respiratory problems such as asthma. It also lowers the body’s resistance to pneumonia and colds. In most cases, the biological pollutants are allergens that cause asthma, allergic diseases, and hay fever. Most of the above-mentioned diseases and conditions are very prevalent in China. From asthma to cancer, children in China contact such diseases at childhood. The disease fighting mechanism in children is not very strong which is why they are the most affected7.

As stipulated by Kan, Chen & Hong, many studies have been done in large cities of China to ascertain the levels of pollution9. Most of these studies assessed the association between mortality and air pollution. The study concluded that open-air air pollution poses a health problem in the country. The Chinese Population is high and still growing. As the population grows the mortality relationship with air, pollution increases since there are more people. In addition, the young children are more susceptible to air pollution. The increasing risk of childhood cancer will raise the risk of cancer later in life10. The management of cancer and treatment is very expensive

Climatic problems

From global warming to air mist, air pollution can cause fatal climatic conditions. In recent years, China has been experiencing dust storms. Plumes of dust mostly from the northern part of the country combined with toxic contaminants have become a health problem in the country.  The increased cases of duct storms have prompted the government to increase spending in ensuring there are forests and greenbelts to reduce dust storms11. Dust storms carry with them small particles that can clog in the lungs causing respiratory problems. In addition, other biological agents in the dust can cause allergies and other diseases.

Due to global warming, there are irregular weather patterns not only in China but also all over the world.  There have been cases of prolonged dry periods and then flooding. Global warming causes more evaporation of water, which later comes down as rain. In China, cases of flooding and other natural events are common. With increased rainfall, plants die and animals migrate to other areas2. This can easily cause an imbalance in the entire ecosystem. The heavy rains and natural occurrences in China affect farming, which leads to hunger. There are people especially in the rural areas living in extreme poverty and hunger in the country. The effect on agriculture is on a global scale due to global warming but for countries like China with a high population, the effect is more than in other countries12. The country spends resources curbing the air pollution rather than diverting such resources to projects such as irrigation to feed the people. In years to come, the air pollution in China will be a global menace if not controlled.

Major Sources of Air Pollution

Coal Mining

China consumes the largest level of coal in the world. Coal is used as a source of energy for China and it influenced the rapid development of the country. China depends on coal to generate 80% of its energy. Forty five percent of coal energy is used in industrial sector while the rest is used to generate electricity13. The Country mines most of the coal they use. Coal mining leads to emissions such carbon monoxide, soot, smog, sulphur dioxide, and mercury14. In the year 2001, the carbon emissions from coal mining in China was 10% of the world carbon emissions. China has high annual carbon emissions as compared to the United States. The mining and burning of coal to generate power is the sole cause of the emitted carbon monoxide. In China, industries and households use coal for power 15. The high population in China ensures that the country uses two hundred million tons of coal yearly by the households.

Mercury is a byproduct of burning coal. Mercury is harmful when it gets into the blood. The disease control and prevention center in the United States estimate that 8% of childbearing have unsafe levels of mercury in their blood16. This puts many children at the risk of neurological deficits. Children in China where coal is the major source of power face the same risks. In the year 2011, Beijing had to cancel many flights and shut down highways due to smog that covered the whole city. Air quality in the city reached dangerous levels. The levels continued to be high for several days affecting economic activities in the city.

Gas emissions

The energy-related emissions of carbon dioxide are emitted by the industrial sector. The sector has diverse manufacturing units some of which consume energy intensively. Almost all provinces in the country are manufacturing oriented giving rise to many industries in China. The sources of energy to power these industries include coal, petroleum, diesel, gas among others. The combustion of all these energy sources emits carbon coefficients. In 2008, the manufacturing industry emitted 4169 megatons of carbon dioxide11. Such high levels are not good for the survival of animals and human beings. With the high cases of deforestation and wildfires, the cleaning of the carbon from the environment is lower than the emissions. This translates that in due time, the levels of carbon will be too high for survival. Already the country is closing down coal mining plants to avert the situation.

The transportation sector is very huge in China given that the population is high. The increase in the number of motor vehicles is rapid since the 1980s17. Again, china is among the largest manufacturers of motor vehicles. The transport machinery use diesel or petrol. The combustion of both components leads to the generation of soot and carbon dioxide.  Locomotives such as motor vehicles emit many gases as they undertake their business. In addition, the country is automated in terms of machinery18. Construction sites utilize machinery in most of the heavy processes. All these machineries emit gases not to mention the dust and other particles from soil and cement. In line with this, the automation of most processes in China has led to development but has also increased the levels of gases emitted to the environment.


Agriculture contributes significantly to air pollution by greenhouse gas emissions. This is the sector most affected by climatic changes. There are many chemicals used in agriculture including fertilizer and animal waste19. Fertilizer and animal waste contain ammonia which when combined with the nitrogen from cars and sulphate generated by coal-fired power plants form soot. Soot contains large particles that can clog the lungs causing respiratory problems. In addition, people have resulted to clearing forests and suburbs to gain land for farming20. This results in deforestation and loss of clean air. Trees are the major ways through which carbon dioxide is turned back to oxygen.

Prolonged dry seasons due to global warming make farms lose any vegetation leaving them bare. These lands are susceptible to soil erosion through the wind in the form of dust. The dust combines with other particles in the atmosphere to form harmful particulate matters. In addition, the chemicals used for farming also leave some residuals in the soil, which is then brown together with the dust as biological pollutants21. Excess ammonia in the body can lead to the destruction of liver, which converts ammonia to urea. When ammonia enters the body through breathing, skin or swallowing, it combines with water to form ammonium hydroxide, which is very collusive22. The ammonium hydroxide destroys body cells on contact. Agriculture also leads to the emission of nitrous oxide. Livestock waste and fertilizer leads to direct emissions of nitrous oxide to the atmosphere.

Biomass Combustion

Biomass combustion is the disposal of dead and living vegetation through burning. After a season, farmers mostly use open fires to destroy the crop wastes and clear land for another season. However, in so doing, these fires emit carbon dioxide as well as nitrous oxide. Oxidization of the nitrogen in the biomass and the atmosphere occurs to generate nitrous oxide23. According to WHO, biomass combustion generates particulate matter and carbon monoxide. In an aim to reduce the burning of coal to produce power, China has resulted to using biomass. Through the levels of carbon generated by biomass burning are lower as compared to coal, the risk of air pollution still exists.

Biomass burning also generates mercury. Streets et al. estimates that in the 1999, 19 mg of mercury was released into the surrounding air through biomass combustion24. China accounts for over 4 % of mercury emissions from biomass combustion in the world25. China has exceptional bioenergy utilization in different regions. Different crops and found in different regions and majority of farmers use combustion as a way of eradication crop wastes from their farms. This has led to increased attention on the input of biomass burning to mercury emitted.

Relation to Other Environmental Issues

There are many causes of atmospheric pollution not only in China but also around the world. Most of these sources are related to other environmental issues. Coal mining being a major cause of air pollution causes other environmental problems such as land subsidence and water environment damage. Land subsidence is the movement of the earth’s surface as it shifts downwards. The movement is due to the voids created by mining agents26. The voids lower the pressure inside the mines. The pressure on the surface becomes high as compared to the pressure inside the mines leading to land subsidence. Land subsidence can sometimes be dangerous and can lead to deaths. Coal mining also damages the water environments. The coal-based production of ammonia, which is used in the production of Fertilizer, consumes a lot of water putting a strain on the water sources27. This combined with the prolonged dry seasons puts a strain on the only water sources in the country.

Agriculture is the main source of food in China. It is also a major source of pollution through the emission of gasses. However, it causes other environmental issues such as displacement of animals. When people clear forests and suburbs for farming, animals migrate to other areas and others die26. Other microorganisms that are significant in the production of crops die when farmers use biomass burning as a way of clearing their farms. Agriculture is greatly by the air pollution. Global warming has affected the seasons and prolonged dry seasons are followed by floods28. With dry seasons and floods, it is hard for crops to survive and hunger kicks in.


The people of China are aware of the air pollution problem and are in the process of tackling it. Things in cities such as Beijing where a fog paralyzed activities for several days in the year 2011 have improved29. However, the efforts they are putting are much below the forces of destruction. Measures like biomass combustion for power generation in place of coal do not solve the issue. Biomass combustion also increases pollution. In addition, most of Chinas economy lies in inefficient and outdated technologies and the industrial energy efficiency in China is considerably half that of developed countries. China already is the largest distributor of air pollution.

From industrial, agricultural, and other emissions, the level of pollution in China is very high and if the government does not take measures, pollution in the country will rise to higher levels affecting the rest of the world. The level of emissions is very high in the country than any other developed country30. The number of industries has grown rapidly over the years. The transportation network has also grown explosively. By the year 2010, the number of motor vehicles had increased rapidly as compared to the numbers in the 1980s2. Apart from the many industries that emit gases and other compounds, motor vehicles and domestic usage of coal and other petroleum products also contribute largely to the air pollution in the country. The public’s contribution to the problem cannot be undermined given that if the country decided to close all the industries and factories, there would still be pollution. In the developing countries where there are no industries, the air pollution is still a problem but at a les scale.



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