07/31/2006, 00.00
CHINA – UNITED STATES

China's air pollution hits United States

Pollution coming from China has reached California and other American states. Experts say that short of drastic intervention, China's expanding industry and private consumption will affect the environment of the whole world.

Beijng (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Fumes and dust from industrial factories, coal-powered energy plants and privately owned cars in China are crossing the ocean and polluting the air in the United States. If drastic intervention is not taken, the situation will deteriorate rapidly and affect the entire globe.

The consequences of the country's rapid economic development do not only pollute China: thousands of km away, across the ocean, on some days, nearly 25% of polluting matter above Los Angeles can be traced to Asia, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. Scientists have confirmed that the pollution is carried by air currents and they fear that China could one day account for a third of all California's air pollution.

Ozone, carbon monoxide, mercury and polluting matter from Asia have been detected on Mount Bachelor in Oregon and Cheeka Peak in Washington state, says Dan Jaffe, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Washington.

"So far, pollution has spread in the air around the world," Professor Jaffe said. "There is no place you can put away your pollution any more."

Dr Cliff, a research engineer at the University of California, Davis, said: "From the expansion of China [with higher consumption of fossil fuels and more use of vehicles and private consumption], we're going to see increased pollution", and this will damage the climate too.

About a third of the Asian pollution is dust, which is increasing due to drought and deforestation, Dr Cliff said. The rest comes from fossil fuel consumption: sulfur, soot and trace metals. This matter could also affect climate by trapping heat, reflecting light or changing rainfall patterns.

"If they [the Chinese] started driving cars and using electricity at the rate in the developed world, the amount of pollution they generate will increase many, many times," said Tony Van Curen, a researcher who works with Dr Cliff.

Coal-fired power plants supply two-thirds of China's energy and a new coal-powered plant is built every week. Every year, the number of Chinese people who own cars is increasing by about 10%, with a corresponding increase of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. At the current rate of development, China will surpass the US as the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the next decade, said Barbara Finamore, who heads the Natural Resources Defence Council's China Clean Energy programme. "It is an environmental time bomb that, unless defused, threatens to convulse the entire planet regardless of progress in all other nations."

Even Chinese environmental officials fear that pollution levels could quadruple over the next 15 years in the absence of radical interventions to rein in the trend. Beijing plans to spend US2 billion to clean the environment over the next five years, but the scale of the problem is immense and aggravated by frequent serious industrial incidents. On 12 June, a truck carrying more than 60 tons of coal tar, toxic and potentially causing tumours, fell "by accident" into Dosha River in Shanxi. The river is used for drinking water and feeds many other important water flows.

Also in June, the Zhejiang Longxin Chemical factory, which produces hydrogen peroxide in Longquan, Zhejiang, discharged poisonous gas after several blasts.

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