This Chinese City Breathes Smog Specks That Are ‘Harder Than Steel’

According to the Chinese researchers, people in one of China’s most polluted cities, Xian, are breathing in smog particles that are harder than steel.

At the beginning of this year, China was ranked the third most powerful country in the world with its four decades of remarkable economic growth being the largest contributor in the country’s development.

However, this breakneck progress came with a price that has essentially exposed the people of the country to unprecedented levels of toxics in the atmosphere – as China turned into the world’s biggest carbon emitter.

China’s air pollution has been a matter of concern for researchers for quite some time. In fact, independent research group Berkeley Earth estimated the harmful emissions into the atmosphere contributed to 1.6 million deaths per year in the country.

However, the situation is worse in the large city and capital of Shaanxi Province in central China, Xian. A team of scientists from Xian Jiaotong University’s school of material science and engineering took samples of smog particles around the city in the winter of 2013.

“We wanted to figure out what formed smog particles. Since we are researchers on the strength of materials, we wanted to see how hard smog particles were,” said Liu Boyu, a researcher from the university.

The result of the study unveiled 8.7 million residents of one of the most polluted Chinese cities were breathing in smog particles that are harder than steel.

According to the researchers, the smog which was dispersed in varying quantities across the country, also contained traces of chromium, iron, aluminum and lead.

However, none of these revelations were shocking enough for the researchers compared to when they found out 70 percent of the particles under examination were hard enough to tarnish most industrial machines made from alloys.

“They’re so hard they could even cause damage to precision machinery,” Liu said.

After conducting a comprehensive study for five years, Boyu along with his team presented the findings at their university last week.

Health experts soon started to dig up on the students’ work and said the hardness of the pollutant had little to do with the respiratory diseases resulting from air pollution. They elaborated it was the particle’s size and chemical make-up that determines the extent of damage it can cause.

“The seriousness of the damage caused by the materials we inhale depends on how far the particles can penetrate our body and what elements they comprise,” said Zhang Xin, from the respiratory department of Shanghai’s Zhongshan Hospital.

“The tinier the things we breathe, the farther they can go into our lungs, making it more difficult for us to expel, by spitting and other means,” he added.

The country’s administration isn’t indifferent about the dire environmental conditions and is reportedly trying to combat the problem without damaging the economic growth.

According to The Economist, the government has imposed several anti-pollution measures as a part of its national action plan on air pollution.


Banner Image Credits: REUTERS/Stringer

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