Beijing China smog

Solving China’s smog problem is an international problem.
Image: Hung Chung Chih /

China’s latest export to the US is proving to be unpopular with the West Coast.  According to new findings from researchers at UC Irvine, China’s smog, now infamous, is blowing all the way across the Pacific Ocean and onto American shores.

The researchers make an effort to point out that the US takes its half of the blame for the situation. “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 researcher and co-author Steve Davis. “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.”

The study’s measurements took place in Los Angeles, whose smog levels have decreased dramatically in recent decades but is now experiencing at least one extra day of smog per year that exceeds federal health standards. Pollution that can be traced to production of Chinese manufacturing may account for roughly 12-24% of airborne pollution along the West Coast.

The message comes hot on the heels of another report published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) that found China’s smog to reduce the life expectancy of Beijing residents by an alarming 15 years on average. It has grown thick enough to obscure vision to several hundred meters, and Beijing residents walk the streets with facemasks.  Of particular concern is a particle called black carbon, which has been linked to a host of respiratory diseases including asthma, cancer and emphysema. Rain doesn’t wash it out of the atmosphere, allowing it to travel on long distance air currents to the US where it persists in the atmosphere.

The Chinese government’s response to the health crisis is mixed at best. Economic policies that reduce production are promised to be in the works, but at the same time the state has approved 15 large-scale coal mining projects despite acknowledging that coal is a primary source of the pollution. The study is a wake-up call that environmental concerns require international cooperation and that just because there’s a cloud of smog in Beijing, that doesn’t mean it can’t reach out and touch someone else around the world. It is another concerning example of manufacturing outstripping attempts to install environmental policy that would keep it in check.