China’s air pollution is a regional health issue and impacts the economy in terms of foreign investment and talent retention, the United Nation’s health agency chief said.
“Talented people have actually talked to me, and they’ve changed their decision to settle in China because of the air pollution,” World Health Organization Director-General Margaret Chan said today in an interview with Bloomberg TV in Hong Kong. “I think Chinese authorities understand this and they know what’s going on.”
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said earlier this month that pollution is a major problem and the government will “‘declare war’’ on smog by removing high-emission cars from the road and closing coal-fired furnaces. Air pollution led to genetic changes that may have sapped learning skills in children whose mothers were exposed to a Chinese coal-fired power plant a decade ago, researchers reported on March 19.
Pollution in Beijing today rose to more than 10 times levels considered safe by the World Health Organization. The concentration of PM2.5 — the small particles that pose the greatest risk to human health — hit 270 micrograms per cubic meter in the Chinese capital as of 12 p.m., a U.S. Embassy monitor said. The WHO recommends 24-hour exposure to PM2.5 levels of less than 25.
Smog produced by China affects not just the country, Chan said, as winds can carry pollutants across borders to neighboring states and even further afield. Pollution from China’s export manufacturers travels across the Pacific Ocean to the U.S. West Coast, contributing to smog in Los Angeles, according to a University of California, Irvine study published in January.