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Industrial Pollution in Northern China


This research paper seeks to discuss the effects and feasible solutions to industrial pollution in northern China. The rapid economic growth due to the industrialization has resulted in severe land, water, and air pollution. Industrial emission of toxic compounds through the burning of coal and other substances has exposed 92% of the Chinese population to more than 120 hours of unhealthy air. Disposal of wastes has left many water sources contaminated, with only half of the 200 rivers and 25% of the lakes and reservoirs in the country having suitable water for domestic use. Air pollution affecting the ozone and causing global warming has increased drought occurrences, especially in the northern parts of China, which has adversely affected food security.

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Also, metal and chemical compounds such as mercury and cadmium in industrial wastes infiltrate the food chain through water and land pollution. These toxicants are a threat to human health. Industrial pollution has further caused a reduction in the lifespan of people in northern China by five years. This effect is due to the rise in the occurrence of pollution-related illnesses, such as cardiopulmonary diseases. Installing pollution-control equipment in industries, construction of water treatment plants, monitoring emission levels, and treatment of wastes are some of the strategies that will curb industrial pollution.

Keywords: industrial pollution, northern China, human health.

Effects and Probable Solution to Industrial Pollution in Northern China

Environmental pollution is worsening both the mortality and morbidity of the exposed people in society. Cooking occurs through the burning of fossil fuels in both rural and urban areas, resulting in the release of greenhouse gases that pollute the environment. Many communities do not have access to adequate safe drinking water and sanitation, something that increases the risk of developing waterborne diseases (Zhang et al. 1110). The situation in China is worse because of the increased pollution levels, especially in the north. The industrialization has saved the Chinese communities from poverty and improved their health and indicators of quality life (Zhang et al. 1111).

However, it has increased both the incidence and prevalence of environmental disasters as well as the release of harmful chemical toxins into the environment, which has an adverse impact on health. Industrial activities continuously release massive amounts of toxic substances that affect not only the health of human beings but also that of other living organisms. Currently, evidence about the health risks of residing near industries that produce industrial wastes and chemicals is limited (Ramis et al. 2). However, the overall effects of pollution from industries are immense. Nonetheless, these and many other negative impacts of industrial pollution can be ameliorated through the execution of strategies that can reduce this environmental menace. This research paper aims at discussing the effects and solutions to industrial pollution in northern China.

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Overview of Industrial Pollution in China

Due to industrial activities, pollution in China has been a huge challenge for many years. Crane and Mao explain that the concentration of air pollutants in the northern parts of the country, which have many industries, exceeds the standard levels recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) in all urban areas (Crane and Mao 1). Outdoor air pollution in the country emanates from a variety of sources, including industrial combustion of coal, dust from construction sites, burning of fossil fuels like petroleum products to power engines, and chemical and waste disposal from factories. Over 70% of electricity generated in China comes from the burning of coal, most of which contain high levels of sulfur and other toxic components (Zhang et al. 1114).

The release of sulfur into the environment through the burning of coal and other fossil fuels causes water as well as air pollution. The accumulation of acidic gases such as sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere contributes to acid rain formation, which can disturb the stable ecological system. Additionally, many of the emitted gases from the burning of these fuels cause environmental warming through the greenhouse effect.

The annual average concentrations of air pollutants in most of the northern Chinese cities like Beijing are above 100 µg m3, which is four times higher than in New York, twice as high as in Tokyo, and four times higher than the WHO recommendation (Zhang et al. 1114). This shows how industrial activities have turned northern China and the country as a whole into a hub for air pollution.

Industrialization also contributes to the creation of other sources of pollution. 92% of the Chinese population experience more than 120 hours of contaminated unhealthy air while 38% experience average unhealthy concentrations (Rohde and Muller, 8). The industrialization has reduced poverty among people, which has resulted in an increase in the number of vehicles. As a result, the release of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and carbon dioxide (CO2) has increased.

Fossil fuel combustion in power plants accounts for 30-50% of these gases while transportation fuel combustion accounts for 15-25%, and industrial facilities release 25-35% (Rohde and Muller, 8). Emissions from these vehicles and the industries not only affect the ozone but also cause fog formation in the surrounding regions (Zhang et al. 1114). Therefore, the levels of air pollutants in China, particularly in its northern parts that experience large industrial activities, are extremely high.

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On the other hand, industrial activities are among the leading causes of severe water pollution not only due to the contamination of water through industrial chemicals but also through the deposition of unhealthy metals in water sources. According to the Chinese water quality standards for mercury, 53% of downstream waters in the country cannot be utilized for industrial development while 67% of the same water in the upstream cannot be utilized for recreational and agricultural purposes (Luo et al., 199).

The concentration of industrial mercury in water bodies, biota, and sediments are a threat to the ecological system. In their study, Luo and the colleagues investigated the concentration of mercury in water, sediments, and biota from upstream and downstream areas of the coastal watersheds along the Chinese Northern Yellow Sea and the Bohai Sea (Luo et al., 199). Due to the high industrial activities, they expected the level of mercury in the water to be higher than in the rivers that pass through areas with minimal or no industrial activity.

The results were an exaggeration of their study expectations. The methyl mercury in 29% of the crabs in the downstream and 41% mercury in the downstream were higher than the recommended limits set by the government of China (Luo et al., 199). Although the mercury and methyl mercury levels in biotic and abiotic samples were higher than the recommended levels, those in the Yellow Sea were higher compared to the Bohai Sea. They found that urbanization and industrialization were the primary sources of mercury in the studied aquatic systems. This is an indication that water in the industrial regions is contaminated with many hazardous metals, including copper and lead among many others.

Additionally, other chemical compounds and toxins gain access to water bodies, worsening the status of water pollution. A huge proportion of major rivers and lakes in China are severely contaminated, and only 50% of the 200 rivers and 25% of the 28 major lakes and reservoirs in the country are suitable for use in domestic activities, including drinking only after treatment (Zhang et al., 1114). Furthermore, 300 million people rely on hazardous drinking water (Zhang et al., 1115). Therefore, water pollution in the country is worse.

Impact of Industrial Pollution on Agriculture

The emission of greenhouse gases in northern China affects the ozone layer and increases global warming, which has adverse impacts on agriculture. Adverse effects on agriculture threaten food security not only in China but also in many other parts of the world. The reduction in rainfall and the increase in desertification caused by industrial pollution have a negative impact on human health because of low food security (McMichael and Butler, 184). Since 1975, there has been a positive association between the decline in rainfall and the increase in atmospheric temperature as well as childhood stunting (McMichael, 139).

China is not an exception to this relationship because of its industrial activities that have increased air pollution. China is a country that experiences high levels of malnutrition. The prevalence of food insecurity in this country is 6.1%, and 16.3% of the elementary school children students have severe malnutrition, with most of these people coming from areas hit most by the insecurity (Shen et al., 952). This occurrence is an indication of the indirect effect of industrial and other forms of pollution on the Chinese people through agriculture.

On the same line, the adverse effects of this pollution impact agriculture mainly through its effects on the ozone layer and the subsequent effect on the climate. The consequences of industrial pollution on agriculture are indirect because pollution affects the rural agriculturally vibrant areas through the adverse impact on the ozone, something that reduces crop yields and threatens food security in China (Zhang et al., 1114). Current pollution of the ozone indicates an adverse effect on food security, resulting in a 10% decrease in most of the cereal crops (Zhaozhong and Xuejun, 152).

If no pollution control is implemented, food insecurity will worsen. The average yield reduction of winter wheat estimates shows that the decrease will be up to 20% in the case of China, based on the projection of the future ozone concentration on the ground in 2020 (Zhaozhong and Xuejun, 152). Therefore, the ever-increasing industrial activities in the northern part of this country will likely worsen the food situation, possibly impacting public health through malnutrition and many other nutritional challenges.

Environmental pollution further worsens irrigation services in the country due to the negative impact on the weather and rainfalls. Most of the agricultural production in China prevails because of irrigation since irrigated land accounts for more than 70% of grain production while the same irrigation accounts for at least 60% of the total water consumption (Lam et al., 2048). Lam and the colleagues further explain that water supply is among many factors that limit agricultural production through its determination of the extent of arable lands.

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In 2008, the country experienced drought stress that affected more than 12 million hectares, and the northwestern parts of the country suffered the most; yet, they comprise more than 40% of the total arable land (Lam et al., 2048). This region of the country has undergone desertification, which means it contributes less to the overall agricultural output, something that worsens food insecurity. The desertification may partly be attributed to different kinds of air pollution.

The effects of industrial water and land pollution impact agriculture, human health, and other organisms. Chemical pollution from industries is a threat to both agricultural lands and supplies of fresh water. The rapid development of industrial organizations in rural and remote areas where agriculture thrives the most is an escalating problem in food safety since the farming land is contaminated by industrial wastes like copper, lead, and mercury (Lam et al., 2049). Most of the toxic contaminants impact the food web, making environmental pollution a serious threat to the health of living organisms once they accumulate the metals through nutrition.

For example, industrial soil and water pollution with cadmium results in the accumulation of this toxicant in agricultural products, which poses a significant threat to human health upon the consumption of the product since it causes many types of cancer, osteoporosis, and renal failure among many other conditions (Bernard, 557). These disease conditions are rampant in China and are probably caused by pollution in water bodies, particularly in industrialized northern parts of the country.

Some research studies have found the industrial contaminants in agricultural products, which ascertains that industrial pollution introduces contaminants in food. China has reported many fatal cases of cadmium exposure through both environmental and food routes (Chang et al., 5). In 2007, a survey conducted by the Nanjing Agricultural University revealed that 10% of all the samples of rice collected from six different agricultural regions across the country were tainted with toxic metals from industries (Zhen et al. 34). Another follow-up study of samples of rice collected from different markets indicated that cadmium levels exceeded the food security standards in more than 70% of the tested samples (Lam et al. 2048).

Lam further asserts that another investigation showed that at least 16% of the rice samples exceeded the standard safety levels for lead and at least 11% of the cadmium levels (2048). Other than agriculture, these chemicals find their way to edible aquatic organisms like fish. The consumption of food rich in mercury impairs the neurological development of children, infants, and fetuses and can equally affect the overall development of the nervous system (Zhang et al. 1112). These findings are enough to draw a conclusion that industrial pollution of water and land introduces toxic chemicals and metals in the food chain, something that threatens the health of the Chinese people who access the contaminated agricultural products.

Impact of Industrial Pollution on Human Health

The rampant industrial pollution in northern China is detrimental to the lives of the Chinese, given it is among the countries to have the highest levels of pollution. No country in the entire world has thrived as an industrial power without a legacy of environmental deterioration, which can take decades and extensive resources from the public to outdo (Kahn and Yardley). Globally, air pollution, which is caused by industrial activities among many other causes, kills more people than AIDS, breast cancer, malaria, and tuberculosis (Yang et al. 1988). Air pollution kills three to seven million people every year by either worsening or creating cardiorespiratory disease conditions (Yang et al. 1988).

In China, air pollution has been killing about 1.2 to 2 million people every year, with the northern parts registering a huge proportion of deaths due to the increased industrial facilities, electric power plants, automobiles, and the utilization of fossil fuels in energy generation (Rohde and Muller 1). China is the largest source of carbon emissions, with many of its major cities failing to meet international health standards for quality air (Albert). Therefore, air pollution in this country, especially the most polluted northern parts, impacts many people because of the increased industrial activities.

Many diseases caused by air and other forms of pollution reduce the lifespan of the people exposed to industrial pollution in northern China. Cardiorespiratory diseases that cause death due to air pollution include stroke, heart diseases, respiratory illnesses such as lung neoplasms, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease among many others. In their study, Chen and the colleagues investigated the effects of increased air pollution on the lifespan of the people in both the northern and southern parts of China (Chen, Ebenstein, Greenstone, and Hongbin 12937).

Their results indicated that the levels of total suspended particulate concentrations are 55% higher in the north than in the south (Chen et al. 12937). This increase in the concentration of air pollutants causes more than 500 million northern Chinese residents to lose at least 2.5 billion years of life expectancy (Chen et al. 12937). This shows that industrial and other sources of pollution contribute to the loss of lives earlier than in people who have no exposure to pollution.

Furthermore, life expectancies in the north are lower than those in the south mainly due to the adverse effects of high levels of total suspended particulate air pollution. Increased pollution of the air reduces the lifespan of the northerners by three years at the time of birth and the overall lifestyles by five years (Chen et al. 12937). The primary cause of this lifespan reduction is because of the many cardiorespiratory diseases that cause early deaths. In 2000, outdoor air pollution in China resulted in about 470,000 premature deaths because individuals were exposed to air pollutants such as the greenhouse gases like NO2 and respiratory particles that are associated with low birth weight, cardiorespiratory diseases, and lung cancer (Zhang et al. 1114).

In curbing the health effects and control of pollution, the country utilizes a lot of finances. Zhang and the colleagues further explain that the costs of combating air pollution from human activities consumed up to 10% of the GDP in 2000, and predictions reveal that, depending on the future policies and technology, it may be between 8% and 16% (Zhang et al. 1114). Therefore, the effects on the health and overall effects of industrial pollution are a threat to the lives of many people in northern China because of the negative impact on their lifespans.

Probable Solutions to Industrial Pollution in Northern China

China should implement policies and appropriate strategies that can help address the problem of industrial pollution. First, the country should utilize technology by installing equipment that can help reduce emissions. These efforts are already in place through the reduction strategies of sulfur dioxide and dust concentration from industrial sectors. For instance, the country is installing and operating sulfur scrubbers on many of its new power plants, something that has helped reduce national sulfur dioxide and dust emission since 2005 (Zhang et al. 1113).

Currently, 90% of the coal plants in northern and other parts of China have installed pollution control equipment that reduces toxic emissions of sulfur dioxide (Crane and Mao 14). The efforts to have all the coal-fired power plants install these types of equipment should continue to realize fewer emissions of pollutants. Newer plants in the country should use advanced pollution control technology in not only controlling toxic chemical pollution of the air but also in order to reduce particulate emission. These technologies are effective.

For instance, 90% of the coal-fired plants in the country utilize electrostatic precipitation to reduce particulate emission, and 10% use bag houses all of which had particulate emission to 0.39 grams KWh in 2012 from 16.5 grams in 1980 (Crane and Mao 14). Therefore, the Chinese government and industries should adopt various strategies to enhance the reduction of pollution by controlling the emission of toxic gases and chemicals.

Furthermore, efforts to curb industrial pollution should aim at adopting less polluting fuels in addition to the installation of pollution-control equipment. 50% of the coal burned in China is utilized to generate electric power, and these plants account for more than half of the sulfur dioxide emissions (Crane and Mao 14). The country should work hard together with its industries to reduce the amount of coal combusted to generate electricity through the replacement of coal with less polluting fuels, nuclear, wind, solar, and natural gas. Such an approach can help achieve air pollutant levels falling within the WHO standards. Crane and Mao explain that most of the countries in the world that have attempted to address air pollution menace have adopted this strategy, and China is not an exception. This assertion will benefit the country, given that it is fossil fuels, especially coal, that contribute to immense levels of air pollution.

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Regulating industrial water pollution is an effective strategy in curbing industrial water pollution. Although the country has limited industries from the emission of industrial water pollutants into water sources, such as mercury and arsenic, much should be done in order to improve this strategy (Zhang et al. 1115). Additionally, the country should construct more waste treatment plants to add to the already existing ones so that the industrial wastes can be treated before disposal. Currently, the nation has more than 60,000 industrial water treatment plants for industrial wastes (Zhang et al. 1115). Another issue is to improve monitoring systems to check whether or not the wastes are treated before their disposal. Such a measure will compel industries to abide by the set policies.

Pollution control regulations should further govern the emission of pollutants from the transport industry because industrialization has an increased number of vehicles in northern China due to the social empowerment and poverty reduction. For instance, Beijing adds at least 1,000 vehicles every day to its streets, something that indicates how vehicle emission of pollutants is a significant challenge (Zhang et al. 1115).

The transport industry in northern China also requires regulation through the promotion of using lead-free petrol, which has been successful in reducing lead concentration in the air for some years (Zhang et al. 1113). Moreover, China has access to pollution-control technologies in the motor industries because vehicles in this country are manufactured by joint ventures between the local and international car companies. The utilization of these technologies is instrumental in lowering emissions from the transport industry.


Although industrial pollution in northern China has devastating consequences to humans and other living organisms, careful implementation of effective strategies and policies will curb the menace. Air pollution is caused mainly by the burning of fossil fuels, particularly coal, in power generating plants in addition to transport industry emissions. The pollutants cause the formation of acidic rain and global warming, which impacts agriculture.

Additionally, industrial waste disposal pollutes water and land, introducing toxic metals and chemicals into the food chain. For instance, mercury from industries can accumulate in fish and agricultural produce, which can enter the human body through nutrition and cause severe health problems. Other than reducing the lifespan of people living in northern China, industrial pollution causes many illnesses, such as cardiorespiratory diseases, that kill many people.

Installation of pollution control equipment and technologies in industries such as electrostatic precipitation in order to reduce particulate emission and sulfur dioxide scrubbers is effective in controlling the pollution. Water treatment plants and treatment of wastes before disposal will help avoid the effects of water pollution. Controlling pollution in the transport industry by using lead-free petrol and the use of technology to reduce emissions are steps towards air pollution reduction.