Taking a business approach to smog

Updated: 2015-06-30 11:06

By Lia Zhu in San Francisco(China Daily USA)

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Expert suggests overseas Chinese wary of returning take entrepreneurial measures

A seminar on China's air pollution was held in Oakland, California, to educate overseas Chinese about China's environmental challenges and encourage them to do their part to fix things.

Organized on Sunday by a local non-profit organization Chinese American Environmental Professionals Association, the seminar invited Carl Wang, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory research scientist and senior engineer on air quality and climate change at Environmental Resources Management, to speak on "Peering through the Haze of China's Air Pollution."

"There are millions of Chinese living in the Bay Area, and many of them have been living in the US for 20 to 30 years," said Wang. "They are concerned about China's pollution, especially the smog, however, they don't know what the situation really is."

A native of Beijing, Wang has been conducting environmental studies in the US for more than 10 years. He completed two studies on Beijing's air pollutants and the pollution levels in China's 31 provincial capitals and municipalities from 2012 to 2014.

Wang said that based on his own studies and World Health Organization (WHO) data, air pollution worldwide has become a serious hazard to human health and causes 7 million deaths each year.

PM2.5, or particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 microns or less, is a main contributor to smog. It is small enough to penetrate deep into the lungs and blood stream unfiltered and cause respiratory or cardiovascular diseases.

China registered 470,649 air pollution-related deaths in 2008, followed by India with 168,601 and Pakistan of 45,300, said Wang, citing statistics from WHO.

"The number [in China] has been on a rise," he said. "It could be over 1 million now."

In China, the worst stricken places are Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei province, with vehicle exhaust and coal combustion as the top pollutants.

"Since April 2008, there have been at least 1,812 days where air quality in Beijing has reached at least 'unhealthy' levels. There have only been two days on which levels did not exceed 'good'," Wang said.

He also told the audience, including environmental professionals, students and residents who are concerned with China's environmental issues, that "Beijing plans to invest $10 billion to reduce 25 percent of PM 2.5 by 2017".

"Most of the overseas Chinese in the Bay Area are highly educated professionals. They have the desire of returning to China," Wang told China Daily. "The Chinese government is working hard to address the environment issues, so this is a good opportunity for overseas Chinese environmental professionals to launch their own startups."

Wang and his team are going to take software called "GAGO Smog Map" back to China. The program provides real-time updates of smog levels and three to five days of forecasts.

"A junior at UC Berkeley who attended his seminar was very enthusiastic about his invention - an air quality detector," said Wang.

"I encouraged him to continue his work and promised to introduce it to the Chinese market if it works," he said.