Fueled by rapidly growing industry with little to no environmental oversight, China’s air pollution has become an international issue of concern in recent years. Nowhere is the smog more obvious than the capital city of Beijing, where a week of ongoing severe pollution alerts recently forced the first middle school closure in the country. “The Middle School Affiliated with Peking University suspended classes on Tuesday and Wednesday, advising students to stay indoors and download study tasks from the school’s online platform,” reports Forbes. The closure is controversial in China because government rules regarding smog dictate classes should continue unless the alert is upgraded to “red,” a sign that the most severe pollution is likely to persist. Rumor has it that school leadership, including teachers, feared for the health and safety of the students, advising students to stay at home.
While it’s common for the air of major cities to be more polluted than small towns or rural areas, Beijing’s air pollution has reached epic levels, even for a crowded metropolis. In late 2012, NASA first noticed that it could see China’s air pollution from space. Just a few months later, Beijing’s air pollution literally went off the charts. The US Embassy—supporting the data from the Beijing Environmental Monitoring Center—described the city’s “beyond index” levels of PM2.5, in which there is a saturation of airborne particulate small enough to deeply penetrate the lungs.
At that time residents, especially young children, were advised to stay inside as hospital admissions for respiratory illness reportedly jumped by 30%, and sales of gas masks and respirators spiked. Since then, China has seen it’s youngest cancer patient–an eight year-old girl with lung cancer–which many people believe is linked to the rampant air pollution.
All of this just reinforces the fact that children, who don’t make the rules that allow companies to pollute without consequence, are the ones who will ultimately pay the price for what we–the adults–are doing to the planet. Whether it’s canceling school and keeping them penned up inside, or something worse.
According to Forbes, “a study published in The Lancet last year argued that air pollution contributed to 1.2 million premature deaths in China in the year 2010 alone. The World Health Organization, however, has expressed uncertainty about the exact extent of impact that air pollution has on human health.”