Teachers - Air Pollution Around the World

Objectives
Students will:
  • collect information about a historical air pollution event and compare to today's air quality standards
  • use various web site to determine air quality in other areas of the world
  • create a presentation about the air quality of another country


Materials
computers with Internet access
copies of the Student Worksheet
computers with PowerPoint or other presentation software (optional)


Background
The economies of several nations, including India and China are growing very quickly. Unfortunately, increasing pollution emissions often accompanies growing economies. India and China separate themselves from the other nations due to the massive numbers of people who live in those countries, 2.4 billion combined. Although the average Chinese or Indian person generates less pollution per person than several western countries, it is the multiplication effect that creates air quality issues, plus a dependency on burning coal - still the source of 75% of its energy.

As a result, China now has the top ten most polluted cities in the world. Most of the pollution is caused by burning of coal as an energy source, and inadequate emissions controls in cars and trucks. China and India are exploring the use of renewable energy, however their tremendous need for energy leaves them with few options. The Natural Resources Defense Council's China Clean Energy Program estimates that China will need to add the equivalent of 300 mega-watt power plants every week for the next 45 years just to satisfy current demands (Time Magazine, April 3, 2006). Many are worried of another "great smog" occurring in China or another country dependent on coal.

"It's like London in the 1950's - once you stop coal use the problem is solved." Li Teijun, Beijing environmental official. (Duncan Hewitt, BBC, 11/17/2000)

Another problem for one city in China - Beijing - is its geographic location. Beijing is located in a basin surrounded by hills, over 60 miles from the coast, and subject to dust filled winds sweeping in from the Mongolian planes.

However, after years of uncontrolled economic development, Chinese officials and citizens are finding it hard to ignore the chronic air pollution. Not only has the poor air quality led to visibility problems, respiratory diseases have become one of the country's biggest health risks, and there are billions of dollars in crop losses each year.


Procedure
Part 1
London, England - December 1952
From December 5 - 9, 1952, a smoke-laden fog settled over Greater London, England (Great London encompasses the City of London and the surrounding London Boroughs). The event is known as The Great Smog of 1952. Although London has always been known for fog, this event was worse than any before or since. The table below contains the air pollution levels during the event and current air quality standards.

Pollution levels for Greater London, December 5 - 9, 1952
SO2 (Sulfur Dioxide)
TSM (Total Suspended Matter)
Episode Average
0.57 ppm (very unhealthy)
1,400 ug/m3 (more than double hazardous level)
Highest Daily Average
0.69 ppm (hazardous)
1,620 ug/m3 (more than triple hazardous level)
Current Regulatory Standards
 
SO2 (Sulfur Dioxide)
TSM (Total Suspended Matter)
British
0.047 ppm (moderate)
~83 ug/m3 (moderate)
US
0.03 ppm (moderate)
~250 ug/m3 (unhealthy for sensitive groups)

Although accurate totals will never be known, over 4,000 people died from immediate exposure to the smog, and it is estimated that as many as 12,000 people died in the following weeks and months as a result of exposure to the smog. Untold numbers of cattle and other farm animals also died from exposure to the smog.

What could have caused such an event to occur?

Historic Information
UK Met Office - The Great Smog of 1952
BBC - Historic smog death toll rises
BBC - Days of toxic darkness
NPR - The Killer Fog of '52
EPA - London's Historic "Pea Soupers"
 
Current Information
England Air Quality data
  • 1-3 (Low)
  • 4-6 (Moderate)
  • 7-9 (High)
  • 10 (Very High)

Use the links listed above to answer the following questions on the Student Worksheet.
  • Describe the meteorological conditions which caused the event to occur?
  • Describe the air quality conditions and what caused London to have poor air quality for hundreds of years?
  • When the people and animals were exposed to the smog in 1952, what were some of the actual causes of death?
  • Why have the number and intensity of events declined since 1952?
  • Describe what is the air quality like today in London?
  • Do you think air pollution is no longer an issue for London?
  • Do you think air pollution is a problem in other areas of the world?


Part 2
The economies of both India and China are growing very quickly. Unfortunately, increasing pollution emissions often accompanies growing economies. China now has the top ten most polluted cities in the world. Most of the pollution is caused by burning of coal as an energy source, and inadequate emissions controls in cars and trucks. China and India are exploring the use of renewable energy, however their tremendous need for energy leaves them with few options. The Natural Resources Defense Council's China Clean Energy Program estimates that China will need to add the equivalent of 300 mega-watt power plants every week for the next 45 years just to satisfy current demands (Time Magazine, April 3, 2006). Many are worried of another "great smog" occurring in China or another country dependent on coal.

These cities were considered some of China's most polluted cities (map of China with Provinces):

City - Today's Air Quality Province Map Today's Weather
Yangquan Shanxi current conditions and forecast
Datong Shanxi current conditions and forecast
Shizuishan Ningxia current conditions and forecast
Shijiazhuang Hebei current conditions and forecast
* The Air Pollution Index (API) used by the State Environmental Protection Administration of China is very similar to the Air Quality Index (AQI) used by the USEPA.


Using the links above, select one of the cities and answer the following questions on the Student Worksheet.
  • Use the Weather Underground link (or other sources) to describe the average yearly climate in that city.
  • Use the report feature at the bottom of the China Air Quality link to obtain the air quality for the city you selected for the past three months.
  • What was the highest AQI reading for you selected city in the past three months? Past six months?
  • How do those reading compare with the U.S. AQI readings? Green, Red, Orange?


Assessment

1) Investigate the air quality in another country. Chose one country from the list below.

Air Quality Data from Countries Around the World
Queensland, Australia Mumbai, India Singapore Kathmandu, Nepal
Thailand (Bangkok, Thailand) Paris, France Mexico City, Mexico
Sweden - ozone


2) For the city and country selected, prepare a 10 minute presentation that addresses the following:
  • Show the location of the city or region selected on a map.
  • Describe the average yearly climate in that city or region.
  • Describe how the government reports the air quality data, and compare that to the way the U.S. EPA reports air quality data.
  • What are the "responsible pollutants" in the city or region?
  • Are the pollution levels higher or lower than the levels that occur in Connecticut?
  • Are there any specific reasons that contribute to the city's or regions air quality issues? Are the stringent air quality regulations? Or no regulations?
  • What are the main energy sources used in the country, coal, oil, natural gas, etc?
  • Are there any current event news stories with respect to the country you selected that would impact air quality?