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China's Haze "More Horrible" than SARs Epidemic, Expert Warns

01-31 16:20 Caijing
A total of 1.4 million square kilometers of China has been enveloped by the hazardous dense haze ending Wednesday, covering most parts of northern and eastern China and affecting more than 800 million people

The nasty brew of gray and brown smog that has blanketed Beijing and other Chinese cities could be "much more horrible" than Sars, a flu-like epidemic that killed hundreds and sickened thousands of people, the country's leading respiratory disease specialist warns.

Unlike Sars during the outbreak of which in 2004 people could be quarantined, "Nobody can escape from [consequences of] air and in-door pollutions", Zhong Nanshan, the president of the China Medical Association, told CCTV  in televised interview on Wednesday.

Mr. Zhong said the dust-haze has not just impacted people's respiratory system; it also damages cardiovascular, blood vessel of brain and nervous system. It's shocking that lung cancer rate has increased 60 percent in a decade, which should be largely blamed to air pollution.

Citing a Hong Kong doctor's study, the outspoken academic - who was awarded as a hero for fighting Sars in 2003 - said when small particulate matter known as PM2.5 increases by 10 micrograms per cubic meter, the hospitalization rate for respiratory diseases rises 3.1 percent while when daily death rate would climb to 11 percent when the fine particulate matter adds to 200 micrograms.

Lost in haze

A total of 1.4 million square kilometers of China has been enveloped by the hazardous dense haze ending Wednesday, covering most parts of northern and eastern China and affecting more than 800 million people, according to Ministry of Environmental Protection.

For the first time in history, the country's central television has issued haze warning on Monday, alerting dangerous pollution levels in Beijing, Tianjin, Liaoning, and Shandong, and fogs in 29 provinces and cities on Tuesday.

In Beijing, the heavily polluted haze has come four times in January, with only five clear days left in the first month of 2013. Air quality was/is graded as level 5-6, which indicates "serious" to "extremely serious" pollution.

The air pollution has led to a "surge in respiratory illness", according to the China Daily. "A pediatric hospital in downtown Beijing has treated a record 9,000 children this month, mostly flu, pneumonia, tracheitis, bronchitis and asthma patients."

Meanwhile, there are reports of several airports and highways closed due to heavy smog in difference cities. On Tuesday, Beijing temporarily shut down 103 heavily polluting factories and reduced 30 percent of official vehicles on the roads.

Government's role

The air pollution has triggered both public anxiety and official concerns. In mid January, the country's incoming premier Li Keqiang vowed to take some actions to address the air problem.

The dust-haze is an "accumulated result for a long time" of both natural factors and unhealthy economic growth model, and it's also "a long process" to solve the issue, Mr. Li said. "But we have to act."

"Actions will be needed for the Chinese people to see hope" beyond recent hazes, echoed Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao this week. The ongoing premier urged restructuring of the country's industries and called for green energy endeavor as the country tries to boost urbanization.

Spokesperson with the Beijing Municipal Environment Protection Monitoring Center told reporters at a conference that "sources including coal, auto vehicles, industries and dust are primary causes leading to the heavy pollution this time."

But the choking public including even the party-controlled CCTV were not quieted down. Instead, many citizens blamed two state-owned oil giants, the China National Petroleum Corporation and China Petrochemical Corporation (Sinopec), for providing "bad quality" crude.

Oil firms are among the responsible but it's not because of substandard crude, Sinopec Chairman Fu Chengyu told the official Xinhua News Agency. He added that the problem is China, as a whole, is not implementing tough enough crude standards.


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