‘Made in China’ – US air pollution tied to exports

A satellite image shows pollution over eastern China in February 2004. The pollution, consisting mostly of soot and sulfate particles, was created from coal and wood burning and persisted throughout the winter.

Pollution over eastern China in Feb 2004.

Chinese air pollution blowing across the Pacific is often caused by manufacturing of goods for export to the US and Europe, according to findings by UC Irvine and others.

Study finds blowback causes extra day per year of ozone smog in LA

Chinese air pollution blowing across the Pacific Ocean is often caused by the manufacturing of goods for export to the U.S. and Europe, according to findings by UC Irvine and other researchers published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study is the first to quantify how much pollution reaching the American West Coast is from the production in China of cellphones, televisions and other consumer items imported here and elsewhere.

“We’ve outsourced our manufacturing and much of our pollution, but some of it is blowing back across the Pacific to haunt us,” said UC Irvine Earth system scientist Steve Davis, a co-author. “Given the complaints about how Chinese pollution is corrupting other countries’ air, this paper shows that there may be plenty of blame to go around.”

Los Angeles, for instance, experiences at least one extra day a year of smog that exceeds federal ozone limits because of nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide emitted by Chinese factories making goods for export, the analysis found. On other days, as much as a quarter of the sulfate pollution on the U.S. West Coast is tied to Chinese exports. All the contaminants tracked in the study are key ingredients in unhealthy smog and soot.

China is not responsible for the lion’s share of pollution in the U.S. Cars, trucks and refineries pump out far more. But powerful global winds known as “westerlies” can push airborne chemicals across the ocean in days, particularly during the spring, causing dangerous spikes in contaminants. Dust, ozone and carbon can accumulate in valleys and basins in California and other Western states.

Black carbon is a particular problem: Rain doesn’t easily wash it out of the atmosphere, so it persists across long distances. Like other air pollutants, it’s been linked to a litany of health problems, from increased asthma to cancer, emphysema, and heart and lung disease.

The study authors suggest the findings could be used to more effectively negotiate clean-air treaties. China’s huge ramp-up of industrial activity in recent years, combined with poor pollution controls, has unleashed often fierce international debates.

“When you buy a product at Wal-Mart,” noted Davis, an assistant professor, “it has to be manufactured somewhere. The product doesn’t contain the pollution, but creating it caused the pollution.”

He and his fellow researchers conclude: “International cooperation to reduce transboundary transport of air pollution must confront the question of who is responsible for emissions in one country during production of goods to support consumption in another.”

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Jintai Lin of Beijing’s Peking University is the paper’s lead author. Others are Da Pan, also of Peking University; Qiang Zhang, Kebin He and Can Wang of Beijing’s Tsinghua University; David Streets of Argonne National Laboratory; Donald Wuebbles of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; and Dabo Guan of the University of Leeds in England.

From the University of California – Irvine

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27 thoughts on “‘Made in China’ – US air pollution tied to exports

  1. Increasing the cost of electricity and coal in the US will drive jobs to China. US coal will be cheaper for China to buy as a result, leading to further job loses in the US. However, the CO2 will return free of charge. The jobs will not.

  2. Sounds like the solution is to put a 200% tax on all imports that come from China. That revenue should go straight to the UN to disperse among the millions and millions of climate refugees all over the world. And a big chunk of it should go to China to offset the damage these imperious Americans are doing to their struggling economy with their punitive border tax policy.

  3. Blame America first? They can’t control China, so they cast about for someone else. It’s obvious that California needs to solve it’s air pollution problem by parking all private vehicles.

  4. I read about this study. What it is really saying is that communist China is a victim to capitalist nations and so, yet again, our decadent capitalist society is to blame for all of earth’s woes. Really, do you need more proof that the CAGW scare is more of a political cause than a scientific one?

  5. China is actually leading the world in building emission-free power generation. Almost half of the nuclear power plants under construction are in China and their plans are for 400 by midcentury and 1600 by the turn of the century. They have also built an enormous amount of hydro capacity,
    although of course, future hydro is limited, as it is everywhere. Unfortunately, unlike us, they have little natural gas, which has provided virtually all of the emission reductions in this country over the past 10 years. We simply lucked out, but China is certainly on track to vastly reduce their
    emissions. And they now have a certified nuclear design which is an improvement on probably our best design – the AP1000, which they have increased the output by a significant amount and which they undoubtedly will export thruout the world. And probably kick our butt, as usual,
    in the process,

  6. There is a mental illness among environmentalists, left-leaners, and journalists in general – – call it Ehrlich-Holdren syndrome – – that human beings are the root cause of all that is bad in the world. Especially western-world consumers and most especially Americans

    So forget about the fact that much of Chinese and Indian energy consumption benefits the living standards of millions of their people. No, the consumption itself is evil, and it only happens because of Western demand for cheap electronics.

    And, of course, you throw in an oblique reference to WalMart sales of same – – – and you have the perfect Liberal Trifecta of Overconsumption, Corporate Greed, and Environmental Destruction. (!!)

    I’d love to see Leftists obliged/forced to live the Chinese standard of living. After all, they ought to love all the bicycling, government control of fertility, State-controlled news media, and vegan diets.

  7. ferdberple please, leave CO2 out of the negative effects, but it seems like the Chinese are simply completing the full service delivery process of manufactured trash products and packaging, I think that is called irony. Here’s a thought, cross WalMart off places to visit and spend and buy fresh, unprocessed US produce instead?
    The crops will love the CO2 and your body will love the nutrients.

  8. If I buy my milk from a farm upstream from me, and because of poor stock management and waterways protection the farmer has, the stream becomes polluted, it is no argument in the farmer’s defense to claim that it’s because I need milk he needs to pollute the stream. Clean up your act China.

  9. cnxtim says:
    January 21, 2014 at 7:13 pm
    ferdberple please, leave CO2 out of the negative effects
    ==============
    nothing to do with the problems or benefits of CO2. Rather, the law of unintended consequences. in trying to reduce CO2, US policy makers end up reducing job while leaving CO2 unchanged. shows the problem in knee jerk solutions in a global economy. you can’t export CO2 away. it will return postage paid.

  10. Ironically, the lead authors of the paper are from China:

    Jintai Lin of Beijing’s Peking University is the paper’s lead author. Others are Da Pan, also of Peking University; Qiang Zhang, Kebin He and Can Wang of Beijing’s Tsinghua University;

  11. Just looking at mentioned of black carbon….

    Black carbon is a particular problem: Rain doesn’t easily wash it out of the atmosphere, so it persists across long distances. Like other air pollutants, it’s been linked to a litany of health problems, from increased asthma to cancer, emphysema, and heart and lung disease.

    I used this article

    Aeolian transport of aerosol black carbon from China to the ocean
    and assuming the distance from eastern China to LA, is ,say 7000km, and using their figures of a half life of BC as 19hours and a ‘residence time’ of 5 days and a westerly wind rate of 5m/sec, for the time the wind to reach LA was 16 days, well past the residence time of 5 days.
    Be very little BC left from China, if any at all ?

  12. But powerful global winds known as “westerlies” can push airborne chemicals across the ocean in days, particularly during the spring, causing dangerous spikes in contaminants. Dust, ozone and carbon can accumulate in valleys and basins in California and other Western states.

    All hand-waving. Not a single mention of how it was determined that those chemicals came from China, instead of say, South Korea or Japan. Or Oregon even.

  13. It really is all about blame. And it is vitally important that the right people get the blame. It can’t be the fault of the Chinese because they are not the right people to get the blame. But by using contorted logic, if we try hard enough we can find some weird argument that lets us blame the US.

  14. The extremists force us to close factories here or prevent new ones from being built. In response, a much dirtier factory is built in China (or elsewhere in the third world). We still get the pollution and they get the profits and the jobs.

    Which do you suppose is cleaner, the average factory in the US or the average factory in China? Factories require power — are our power plants cleaner or are the ones in China cleaner?

  15. GeologyJim says: @ January 21, 2014 at 6:48 pm

    …I’d love to see Leftists obliged/forced to live the Chinese standard of living. After all, they ought to love all the bicycling, government control of fertility, State-controlled news media, and vegan diets.
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    Make that ALL green fanatics and I will certainly agree.

  16. The pollution hasn’t been “outsourced” though, has it?

    The civilised West can and did produce such products without the pollution because of regulations on industry to prevent it.

  17. They may have found a correlation between pollution in the LA basin and Chinese imports, but it is not likely from emissions in China. It is more likely from container ships coming into the Port of LA. A good statistician should be able to sort out the truth.

  18. Nice way to sensationalize a handful of prosaic facts that any non-leftist economist could have told you, and in fact which many predicted years and years ago. And now it’s a surprise?

    The majority of China’s industrial growth over the last couple of decades has come about because of the export market. (That’s what has been called China’s “economic miracle”) Also, China in fact has horrible to non-existent environmental controls, since so many of it’s businesses are either state-controlled, or run by those with very strong State of PLA connections. (The industrial empire of the PLA is amazing, although seldom reported) So, this article says that most of China’s pollution comes from most of China’s industrial growth. Wow, what a shocking conclusion, who woulda thunk it?

    And why has industrial production moved over there from places like Europe and America? Because wages are lower (Thank you, Workers Paradise) and environmental controls are non-existent. Again, who could possibly have imagined the consequences of moving production from the 1st world to the 3rd world? Utterly unforseeable, right?

  19. Should the UK based manufacturing stop selling to China then?
    Jaguar Land Rovers largest market is now China £5.4 billion worth last year (and still growing ) from zero ten years ago..

  20. ‘Made in China’ – US air pollution tied to exports

    Don’t let the EPA get wind of this; they will generate some screw-ball regulation to combat it …

    .

  21. We need to pay the Chinese to manufacture a massive curtain to run across the Pacific to keep the pollution over there [/sarc]

  22. When I was in Alberta in 2000 (speaking at an agriculture conference), local farmers were blaming Chinese pollution for reduced rainfall in the Western provinces. Is this possible?

  23. wws says January 22, 2014 at 6:50 am

    And why has industrial production moved over there from places like Europe and America?

    WE still have production both here and in Europe; the difference is, however, the Chinese are REALLY willing to hustle when it comes to ‘making a better offer'; if you have not been involved directly with them, then, you have not seen this …

    There are some other factors too, but their willingness to be aggressive to win customers MUST not be minimized.

    .

  24. Robertv says January 22, 2014 at 1:54 am

    And Japanese Wasabi brings Fukushima radiation ?

    Relevance or relationship to the OP is??

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