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China’s Air Pollution is Making Its Way to the U.S.

China’s Air Pollution is Ending Up in the U.S.

China’s air pollution is making its way across the Pacific Ocean to the western U.S., according to a new study.

The study, published in Nature Geoscience, shows that ozone pollution has been traveling across the ocean to the U.S. While the western U.S. has cut back on the nitrogen oxide, which combines with sunlight and volatile organic chemicals to form ozone air pollution, these reductions were however offset by China’s traveling pollution.

“The dominant westerly winds blew this air pollution straight across to the United States,” explained lead research Willem Verstraeten of the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute.

“In a manner of speaking, China is exporting its air pollution to the West Coast of America,” he said in a statement.

Researchers studied the trophosphere, the lowest layer of the Earth’s atmosphere, known to have the lowest levels of ozone. The study found that ozone levels had increased by 7 percent between 2005 and 2010.

Ozone pollution contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and closer to the ground it creates respiratory problems. It can make it more difficult to breathe, cause shortness of breath, scratchy throat, increase the frequency of asthma attacks, and cause lung infections. It can even damage the lungs once these symptoms have disappeared.

Another study last year showed that China’s traveling air pollution accounted for 12 to 24 percent of sulfate concentrations on the West Coast.

China poor air quality has already created major issues internally. Nearly 90 percent of the major cities in China failed to meet air quality standards in 2014, according to a report from the country’s Minister of Environmental Protection. The report found that 66 of 74 major cities including Beijing, Shanghai, and Tianjin did not meet standards. The Hebei Province, which surrounds Beijing, is home to the 10 worst cities in terms of air pollution.

The “pea soup” smog which blankets the northern cities is small enough to get into people’s lungs and bloodstreams, impacting public heath. And even tourism has felt the pangs of the dirty air with grounded flights and closed highways. It’s been described as looking like a nuclear winter. And much of it is due to manufacturing.

According to Think Progress:

Manufacturing for export was also responsible for 27 percent of its nitrogen oxide emissions, 17 percent of its black carbon and 22 percent of its carbon monoxide. Since the United States is among China’s top trading partners, that means that the country plays a role in these manufacture for export emissions. The United States has also exported much of its manufacturing to China, which means that the creation of products designed by U.S. companies happens there and not in the U.S.

While new federal standards have reduced ozone pollution in the Western U.S., partnering with China to reduce pollution is key. The U.S. also needs to recognize its role in China’s manufacturing.

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Image of air pollution coming from a coal-fired power plant from Shuttershock

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