Tag Archives: Beijing

Air Pollution and the Inner City


When I visited New York City last year, the first thing I noticed after I opened my car door was the distinct smell. I can’t even describe it, but I wouldn’t exactly call it pleasant, or clean for that matter. How can NYC regulars breathe in such air on a daily basis without some adverse effects? Am I the only person who sees this as a potential problem?

Recent news reports have highlighted the overwhelming amount of air pollution in Beijing, although I haven’t heard of much coverage in any other cities over the years.

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The Forbidden City in Beijing covered in smog. Want to see how major US cities would look with Beijing level-smog? Check out this cool website: http://www.marketplace.org/topics/sustainability/what-would-your-city-look-beijings-air-smog-simulator

     When I searched for news reports pertaining to air pollution and adverse health effects, many of the stories I found were published after the revelation of Beijing’s pollution. Here’s some interesting information that I found from the articles I read:

As the 5th leading cause of death in the highly populated India, recent studies of inner city particulate matter and ozone levels have been linked to asthma, hardening of arteries, heart attacks, birth problems, and even lung cancer. While those who developed cancer spent years living in cities, occasional visitors are still at risk of having asthma attacks and provoked allergies.

     Living Green magazine recently published an article listing the most polluted cities in the US based on particulate and ozone pollution from cars, factories, fires, and harmful aerosols (also known as Volatile Organic Compounds, VOCs). Although 10 cities in California were the biggest culprits, 9 others around the country made the list as well, including Phoenix and Fairbanks.

A BBC article listed some of the most traffic-jammed cities in the world, with Los Angeles as one of the most “gridlocked.” Beijing was also ranked high on the list. Further research lead me to find that more people drive in L.A. because it’s population is so widespread, leading to a lengthy commute when using public transportation. Could the mass amounts of drivers in both of these cities be one of the leading causes for pollution?

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An LA traffic jam.

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Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA. Try taking a jog on those sidewalks!

     After reading some other articles, I was surprised to see that many stories identified minorities as those most affected by air pollution, more specifically black Americans. In St. Louis, (also listed as one of the most polluted cities by Living Green) minorities living in the city’s eastern side are mostly black. Residents have recently observed increasing cases of asthma among children. In fact, experts are saying east-side St. Louis has one of the highest asthma rates in the US!

Eastern St. Louis is home to a hazardous waste incinerator, wastewater treatment facility, and various other chemical plants: all of which emit the asthma-inducing particulate matter and ozone. One resident said that at one time, “you would step outside and see clouds of smoke, and the air would smell like stale smoke all the time.”

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Dilapidated homes in Eastern St. Louis, Illinois.

     Why are poor minorities the most affected by such pollution? Many of the houses in East St. Louis are dilapidated and often burnt out. Some residents live in tents. Some houses are located fairly close to the highway. With the average family income at $22,000, this area has a poverty-striken past and present.

The US isn’t the only country with polluted cities. A news report from Johannesburg, South Africa detailed heavy pollution among the city’s townships or “slums,” where the residents were “choking to death.” In Sheffield, England, the number of drivers has increased as less people use buses. A study found that the city is losing 160 million euros a year due to sick days and premature deaths. For those most exposed to high levels of air pollution, reduction in life expectancy could be up to nine years.

I’m no scientist by any stretch of the imagination, but after reading all these stories, I find air pollution as a whole to be quite an interesting, yet highly alarming phenomonon. Who in their right mind would want to inhale car exhaust everyday? Not one news story that I read hinted towards positive change; they all highlighted “developing problems.” As amazing as NYC was when I visited it, I found myself missing one thing from my hometown in southeastern Massachusetts: fresh air.

Works Cited

BBC News Business. “Gridlocked World: Where Are the World’s Worst Traffic Jams?”BBC News. N.p., 16 Jan. 2013. Web. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-21019157&gt;.

Bega, Sheree. “Poor ‘choking to Death’ on Pollution.” Saturday Star. N.p., 17 Feb. 2013. Web. <http://www.iol.co.za/saturday-star/poor-choking-to-death-on-pollution-1.1471675#.UUVRYqXhA02&gt;.

“City Faces Air Pollution Challenge.” Sheffield Telegraph. N.p., 26 Feb. 2013. Web. <http://www.sheffieldtelegraph.co.uk/news/local/city-faces-air-pollution-challenge-1-5447322&gt;.

Dabinett, Gordon. “Air Pollution Costing Sheffield £160 Million.” AirQualityNews. N.p., 21 Feb. 2013. Web. <http://www.airqualitynews.com/2013/02/21/air-pollution-costing-sheffield-160-million/&gt;.

Eberhard, Kristin. “How Can Transit Work in Big, Dense, Polycentric Los Angeles?” Web log post. Switchboard: Natural Resources Defense Council Staff Blog. N.p., 22 Jan. 2013. Web.

Gammon, Crystal, and Environmental Health News. “Pollution, Poverty and People of            Color: Asthma and the Inner City.” Scientific American. N.p., 20 June 2012. Web.  <http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=pollution-poverty-people-color-asthma-inner-city&gt;.

Magazine Editor Post. “Most Polluted Cities in the U.S. [Infographic].” Living Green Magazine. N.p., 1 Feb. 2013. Web. <http://livinggreenmag.com/2013/02/01/energy-ecology/most-polluted-cities-in-the-u-s-infographic/&gt;.

Shalini. “Air Pollution Fifth Leading Cause of Death in India, Reaches ‘critical’ Level.”IBN Live India. N.p., 18 Feb. 2013. Web. <http://ibnlive.in.com/news/air-pollution-fifth-leading-cause-of-death-in-india-reaches-critical-level/373538-3.html&gt;.

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1 Comment

February 27, 2013 · 5:04 am