There are a variety of factors that have led to the air issues we experience in China on a daily basis.

Many people who have lived in China for a while have heard of the Air Quality Index (AQI).

Usually this is in the context of determining how polluted the air is on any given day. This is certainly an important number to pay attention to as you go about your day, but it is also important to realize what causes such high AQI readings in China, and what it means for your health.

What causes air pollution (Outdoors) ?

There are a variety of factors that have led to the air issues we see in China on a daily basis. Massive urbanization and excellent economic growth rates have led to a hugely significant increase in the number of vehicles in major Chinese cities. As a result exhaust fumes containing harmful pollutants including Carbon Dioxide, Carbon Monoxide, Nitrogen oxides and particulate matter have rapidly risen becoming a major sources of air pollution in China.


Much of China’s impressive economic growth has been powered by coal fired power plants. These plants emit much of the same pollutants as vehicles, but also emit Mercury, Sulfur Dioxide, and Volatile Organic Compounds. Lead, persistent organic compounds, and several other chemical compounds very hazardous to human health are emitted by factories in a number of industries. Industry is another leading source of air pollution in China and contributes significantly to air issues.

Indoor Air Pollution

Indoor air pollution is also a serious issue leading to adverse health effects throughout China. International health standards for indoor air dictate much lower levels of pollutants compared to outdoor health standards as this is the air more regularly breathed. Therefore even if a low AQI is being recorded outdoors, pollutant levels indoors could be very different. Unhealthy air blowing in from outside aswell as sources of indoor air pollution contribute to pollution levels. Inefficient cooking practices over open fires or traditional stoves involving the burning of solid fuels (i.e. wood, charcoal, coal, dung, crop wastes) produce health damaging pollutants. Further contributing factors include the ventilation of the environment (is it adequate to allow smoke to escape quickly or is smoke allowed to linger in the environment and accumulate), the size of the kitchen, the frequency of stove use and the time spent burning the fuel are also major factors that contribute to the emission levels (@).

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Learning about your indoor air quality is the first crucial step towards solving your air quality issues and ensuring you are truly breathing healthy air.

Human Health Impacts

The air pollution currently experienced in a large number of Chinese cities is consistant with levels that are known to result is detrimental human health. Infact the toll of China’s air pollution on human health is, to increased heart and lung disease, as well as increased cancer rates. A study by the World Health Organization concluded that China’s air pollution contributed to 1.2 million premature deaths in 2010.

For an extended guide explaining the six Air Quality index levels click here

What’s in the Air

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