SHIJIAZHUANG, China – China’s problem with pollution is widely known, but knowledge of the details is less common. In a joint study between the Asian Development Bank and Tsinghua University, located in Beijing, the ten most polluted cities were identified, seven of which are located in China’s Hubei region. Shijiazhuang, China is one of those cities. Located approximately 180 miles southwest of Beijing, the city is home to over 10 million people and some of the worst smog in the world. However, thanks to an innovative new program, the city is on the verge of recycling its smog in order to heat homes.
First, it is important to understand the extent of Shijiazhuang’s air pollution. Air quality index (AQI) is a standard of measuring air pollution levels with subsequent advisories that range in severity. Levels under 50 are the cleanest and become more hazardous with each further increment of 50. On November 22, Philadelphia’s AQI was 76, meaning ‘unusually sensitive’ populations could face moderate health problems. Meanwhile, in Shijiazhuang levels ranged from 262 (“Very Unhealthy”) to 922 (“Hazardous”) depending on which area of the city was being tested. Previously, an AQI of 500 was considered the worst. Los Angeles, often considered the most polluted city in the United States, reported a highest AQI of 63 on the same day. The American Lung Association’s top most polluted city in the U.S. (tied with Merced, California) is Bakersfield, California which reported in an AQI of 76.
Given the increasing issues resulting from such pollution, methods to reduce the smog are growing. Health problems are not the only concern. Last year, about 700 flights were cancelled due to smog and severely limited visibility. In some places manufacturing companies have been forced to halt operations when the AQI gets particularly high. The most severe pollution tends to occur in the winter when northern China’s public heating system is turned on, as it was last week. Shijiazhuang’s pilot program aims to capitalize on the pollution by using industrial wastewater to warm homes.
Many people have already switched from coal boilers to electric radiators, but the program takes environmental aims one-step further. The already warm wastewater that has presumably already gone through the cleaning process, is further heated by energy efficient boilers and thus far is being utilized in the Lijingwan neighborhood. Gree Electric Appliances provided the equipment for the program, such as the energy efficient boilers and has made strong claims about the potential impact of the program. The company states if coal boilers were replaced, 275,000 tons of coal could be saved for every 10 square kilometers (about 3.86 square miles) of floor space. As a reference point, the metro area of Shijiazhuang is 1,917.3 square kilometers. Furthermore, the company emphasizes that the program cuts carbon dioxide emissions, sulfur dioxide and dust pollution.
Shijiazhuang is not the only city in China testing the benefits of recycling pollution. The city of Jinan’s heating office announced plans to implement a similar pilot program, and the Drainage Group of Beijing runs a similar program in Olympic Village. Shijiazhuang predict recycling industrial wastewater to heat homes will cut energy consumption by 44 percent and save 868 tons of coal this winter in just the one neighborhood it is currently used in.
Such innovations can come none too soon. A survey by the National Pediatric Cooperative Group on Asthma Research shows significant increases in asthma rates over the past ten years, particularly in the older age group of children 3 years and older. This is potentially an indication that asthma becomes more likely as children spend time in the polluted air of China’s cities. Shijiazhuang’s program could have national health benefits in addition to environmental benefits, a side effect that would no doubt be welcomed by the government.
Sources: National Center for Biotechnology Information , Airnow, Discovery Channel, Shanghai Daily, British Broadcasting Corporation
Photo: Aljazeera America