China's Air Pollution Problem: Smog Is So Bad CCTV Security Cameras Can't See

By Ben Wolford on November 6, 2013 3:11 PM EST

The air pollution index in China was classified as
The air pollution index in China was classified as "beyond index" on this day in January.

The human toll of air pollution in China seems to be getting worse and more immediate after a series of recent calamities, including one report that smog is becoming a national security threat and another that an 8-year-old girl was diagnosed with lung cancer.

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And on Wednesday, the state news agency Xinhua reported that northern Chinese schools might shut down on days when the smog is too dense. The government also released an announcement seeking to quell outcry in South Korea that China's pollution is blowing across the peninsula, sickening Koreans.

"The cause of air pollution and climate change is the same — the burning of fossil fuel," said Xie Zhenhua, vice-minister of the National Development and Reform Commission, in the Xinhua report. "Many of the policies and measures to solve the two issues are also the same, such as reducing coal consumption and controlling the number of motor vehicles."

Xie went on to blame "developed countries" for failing to pay developing ones, like China, to reduce their carbon emissions. But he promised China's pollution problem would alleviate in five to 10 years.

Meanwhile, just in the last few days, China's problems seem to be mounting.

On Tuesday, the South China Morning Post reported that Chinese national security officials are concerned about their security cameras, which can't see past a few feet on the worst days. In Harbin, a city in northern China, the CCTV visibility had dropped below 10 feet. The government commissioned two teams of civilian and military scientists to find a solution within four years. But the scientists say smog is a difficult foe.

"Our preliminary research shows that the smog particles are quite different from the small water droplets of fog in terms of optical properties," Yang Aiping, an expert in digital imaging at Tianjin University, told the Morning Post. "We need to heavily revise, if not completely rewrite, algorithms in some mathematical models. We also need to do lots of computer simulation and extensive field tests."

Also this week, the government announced that an 8-year-old girl in Jiangsu Province, just north of Shanghai, had been diagnosed with lung cancer, The New York Times reported. Her doctor said the cause was air pollution from the dirty streets where she lived. A nasty type of fine particulate matter entered her lungs and became inflammed and malignant. The girl, who was not named, is the youngest in China to be diagnosed with lung cancer.

The Times also reported that as it gets colder, Chinese are fearful of what will happen when they turn on their coal-powered central heating systems.

In response, the government's Ministry of Environmental Protection is installing more air-monitoring systems in more cities. It also announced a series of measures it could deploy on the worst smog days, including closing factories, restricting driving and banning cooking outdoors. The Ministry would also urge schools to shut down and businesses to adopt flexible working hours.

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