Beijing Dust Bricks | CYBERNOLE.NET

Has Beijing’s and China’s pollution reached irreversible levels?

The densely populated city of Beijing, China has a flourishing and wealthy industrial economy, with 6,301 “above-designated-size” industrial enterprises by the end of 2005. Among these industries are equipment manufacturers, chemical producers, and fuel processors, all within a city of approximately 21.15 million residents. The overall productivity and consumption continues to rise within these industries, but most of them, in addition to the average pollution emitted by each resident, are also contributing to the rise in Beijing’s air pollution.

According to a report released by the nonprofit organization Berkeley Earth, which is based out of the United States, “more than 80 percent of Chinese people are regularly exposed to pollution that far exceeds levels deemed safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.” It has become so polluted that directly breathing the air in Beijing is equivalent to doing the same damage as smoking 40 cigarettes in a day. Residents often wear pollutant masks when walking outdoors to avoid the harsh air conditions. These smog-filled conditions are proving to be horrible for the environment of such a populated city, and one artist has managed to create a physical symbol of the current pollution status: a brick.

Calling himself “Brother Nut,” this Chinese performance artist decided to make an attempt at gathering enough air pollution to condense into a solid brick. For 100 days, Brother Nut lugged around an industrial-strength vacuum, sucking up the air throughout the city and near the famous landmarks. In doing so, he gathered enough air pollutants to eventually condense them into a relatively small mixture of red clay at a factory in Tangshan, a city that neighbors Beijing.

“Dust represents the side effects of humankind’s development, including smog and building-site dust,” said Brother Nut in an interview with the New York Times. He also mentioned how his intention is for the brick itself to be representative of the dangerously high air pollution within China.

During the time of Brother Nut’s collection of air pollution, Beijing had been experiencing relatively high levels of the pollutant called PM2.5. The levels were so high (up to 600 AQI, or air quality index) that the Chinese government issued an orange alert, the first one of the year, in an effort to warn individuals to remain indoors if possible and to avoid the polluted air altogether. At this AQI measurement of PM2.5, the air is over 20 times the limit that is considered healthy to breathe, which greatly increases the pollutant hazard to humans.

Essentially, PM2.5 consists of small particles that can make their way deep into the respiratory system and damage the lungs. The term PM2.5 actually stands for particulate matter that is under 2.5 microns in diameter, specifying exactly how small these pollutants are. They are often associated with a large spectrum of harmful diseases and effects on people, leading those that are aware of the pollution to wear masks when around the outdoors air of Beijing. Despite the reduced intake of pollutants in the air, some residents feel it’s not even worth the effort. “When I first arrived in Beijing, I wore a hygienic mask for a few days, but later I stopped. In smog like this, there’s no escaping,” said Brother Nut to the New York Times.

China isn’t the only nation to suffer from extreme smog by any means; in 2013, the American Lung Association released a “State of the Air” report, stating that the Los Angeles and Long Beach region of California is the smoggiest place in the United States. With a population of just over 18 million, that can prove to be a health hazard for quite a large amount of people, negatively impacting the daily lives of nearly as many people as Beijing.

Despite higher-than-normal levels of air pollution in the Los Angeles area of California, where industries and citizens excessively pollute the air on a daily basis, there isn’t anywhere in the United States that has nearly as much air pollution as the city of Beijing, China. Much of the pollution problem in Beijing and many other Chinese locations can be attributed to inefficient legislation on the part of the Chinese government. With a lack of restrictive and precise environmental laws for a very long time, China gradually suffered the consequences of uncontrolled industrial growth, which is a problem that is clearly still being dealt with today.

It has only been relatively recently since China’s government first started to drastically change their environmental policies in order to protect what environment they had left after a long period of uncontrolled pollution. Following in the footsteps of many other developed nations, the Chinese government started to acknowledge the causes and effects of global warming and began enacting policies that would require industries and other corporate entities to be at or under certain pollution limits. Despite this, many of the laws and policies that aim to protect China from further pollution are actually insufficient in their required minimal levels, for the population is growing at such a high rate that consumption levels are rising uncontrollably and more pollution is being emitted on a daily basis than is prevented. Some of the damage, like in Beijing, appears to be irreparable unless society and the restrictions upon its citizens drastically change for the better of the environment. Who knows, it might just take a condensed-pollutant brick to spark a fundamental change in Chinese environmental policy.

– By W. Samuel Hargesheimer, Staff Writer