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Chinese Imports are Hurting More Than America's Economy


Written By: Christine Dantz

When America (and other countries) began outsourcing manufacturing to China, they sent more than money and jobs, which hurt America's economy, they sent pollution. Now both countries are dealing with the consequences of these choices. Smog from the Asian country is traveling across the ocean and wreaking havoc on America's West Coast. In China, the air quality is much worse, with some cities resembling a "nuclear winter," according to recent accounts.

Photo courtesy of Time

Photo courtesy of Time

China's Deadly Smog

The smog is deadly. Linked to thousands of deaths, the daily alert system's readings have been off the charts. Concerned experts know some of the particles can penetrate deep into the lungs, as well as enter the body through the bloodstream. Those particles, PM 2.5, can cause asthma, cancer, and heart problems. On February 26, 2014, three Chinese cities exceeded concentration levels of these particulates above151 and two cities above 400.

That's Not Fog, That's Smog

Pollution doesn't need a passport, it's traveling free of charge across the ocean to the Pacific Coast. Skipping immigration, it hurts unsuspecting Americans; many, still unaware that the haze in the sky is the smog of Christmas Past and not from too many cars clogging up the highways. This time, the thick, smoky air is from China, an estimated 12-24 percent of air pollution in the Western U.S. comes from manufacturing in China.

A recent study by a professor of atmospheric science at the University at Urbana-Champaign, determined the pollution from China is producing record levels of smog in Los Angeles and other western regions. This, combined with their own air pollution, is causing U.S. cities to be in violation of ozone standards monitored by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Don't be Quick to Judge

For many reasons, the U.S. shouldn't be quick to judge China's gift.

  • Of the Chinese air pollutants, an estimated 21 percent are related to exports the U.S. outsourced to China

Between 2000 and 2007 Chinese exports grew nearly 400 percent

  • U.S. companies outsource to Asia to save money, in some cases the savings can be as much as 30 percent

China isn't alone in smog issues. A 2010 world report didn't even list China in the top ten:

    • Ahwaz, Iran
    • Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
    • Sanandaj, Iran
    • Ludhiana, India
    • Quetta, Pakistan
    • Kermanshah, Iran
    • Peshawar, Pakistan
    • Gaborone, Botswana
    • Yasouj, Iran
    • Kanpur, India

The Response

Extreme levels of pollutants at the beginning of 2014 have forced Chinese officials to take harsh measures to the clear the noxious air. Levels in February almost hit 20 times the save level of hazardous air particulates the "WHO" (World Health Organization) reports as safe. Estimates show that parts of the Asian country are in the "danger zone" an average of 60 percent of the year, garnering the following response:

  • Air quality monitors in major cities and an alert system, warning people not to leave their homes during orange or red alerts

Pushing government incentives to increase clean energy, in 2013, 70 percent of China's energy comes from coal

  • In 2014, the country started to track 15,000 major pollution producers in the country

Increased penalties, fines, and other measures against companies refusing to reduce emissions and shut down during high smog levels

  • The Hebei province, where particulate readings regularly exceed the highest levels on the index, promises to reduce steel production by 40 percent by 2020

In outsourcing manufacturing to Asia, U.S. companies cleared the air over some of the most notorious polluted cities in the Northern part of the United States. Yet, thirty years after those jobs started leaving, the pollution is returning and America has nothing to show for it.

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