Healthier smog? A scientific report says air pollution in Beijing is less toxic

Heavy metals in Beijing’s smog have decreased over the past three years, with arsenic decreasing by 85.9%, lead by 48.9%, and cadmium 40.7%, according to a report by science website ScienceNet.cn, under the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Among the three major harmful heavy metals, arsenic is closely related to coal-burning, particularly the coal-burning home heating system that has accompanied residents in northern China through winters since last century.

While exposure to arsenic and cadmium contributes to risk of getting cancer, and affects almost all body systems, the human body can effectively confuse lead with calcium and other nutrients, causing problems such as nerve disorders to both children and adults.

According to ScienceNet.cn, Beijing has closed three major coal-fired power plants since 2014, largely decreasing the consumption of coal. Sulfur dioxide, a pollutant that comes mainly from burning coal, decreased by 49.1% from 2013 to 2015.

Now that the proportions of three major heavy metals have decreased, is it now significantly less harmful to inhale the the air in Beijing? The answer could be negative, as PM2.5 pollution particles contain more than just arsenic, lead and cadmium.

The report has sparked wide discussion from Chinese netizens. Weibo netizen zodiac_ag posted: Wow, finally I can inhale healthy smog now.

The joke won’t change the fact that smog is smog. On Tuesday, Beijing issued the orange alert for air pollution.

(Top photo from Baidu Images)

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Ke Jin

Ke graduated from the University of Edinburgh with a Master's Degree in English and has worked on projects with Ipsos MORI and SDI Media. She's particularly intrigued by China's thriving technology scene and is eager to write about this flourishing industry.

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