China exports more than consumer goods to the Unites States. A new study finds that pollution created by industrial China is wafting across the Pacific Ocean and contributing to health and environmental problems on the West Coast. This is the first time a study has measured the effect of Chinese export production, a side-effect of the global demand for cheap consumer goods, on air pollution in the U.S.
West Coast cities like Los Angeles suffered an extra day of smog each year caused by nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide pumped out by Chinese factories, according to the report. Chinese pollution can account for up to a quarter of sulfate concentrations in the United States on certain days, indicating just many toxic fumes journey across the ocean. Sulfate pollution is caused by burning fossil fuels in China. The industrial pollutants, including cancer-causing black carbon, traveled to the U.S. on westward moving winds known as "westerlies."
"Pollution from China is having an effect in the U.S., and we need to recognize how that is affecting both our background ozone levels and also particulates that are reaching the West Coast," Don Wuebbles, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, told CNN.
The research, conducted by a group of Chinese and American scientists, was published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a group that also reported the link between air pollution and a decrease in life expectancy in north China. The report also states that between 17 and 36 percent of air pollutants in China in 2006 were related to production of export goods, and a fifth of those were tied to U.S.-China trade.
The U.S. is not the only country that receives clouds of second-hand pollution. According to Reuters, neighboring Japan and South Korea have been exposed to the toxic smog, the by-product of factory production, for the past twenty years due to China's lax industrial and environmental regulations.
Last week, China issued its first smog warning of the year, telling residents to plan for toxic fumes that cause persistent colds, cough, and black phlegm. And to keep tabs on the China's shocking air quality, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing set up an air quality monitor to take regular readings.
This fascinating infographic from the Guardian clearly shows the enormous differences in environmental quality between the U.S. and China. China has over five times the amount of air pollution, and nearly twice as many carbon emissions.