China Launches Environmental Police Force to Combat Its Pollution Crisis

In an attempt to attack Beijing's worsening air pollution, the government has created a special police unit to enforce environmental protection regulations.

As Beijing continues to face an air pollution crisis, China has announced it will launch an environmental police force to help combat the combat the problem. Beijing's mayor, Cai Qi, who is also deputy chief of China's ruling party, said he will begin to impose tougher restrictions to reduce the country's longstanding toxic smog problem, reported Al Jazeera.

"Like many of us, I am used to checking the weather and the air quality index of Beijing first thing in the morning," Cai said during a press conference. "I totally understand the public's concerns and complaints over air pollution."

The mayor told the press that the police force would enforce regulations on outdoor barbecues, garbage incineration and the burning of biomass for fuel use. He said that he's confident increasing supervision to enforce these regulations will help reduce the country's pollution.

"[China] is one of the most highly populated countries in the world, they therefore have the potential for producing large quantities of materials that could be released into the air," Michael McCawley, a professor of occupational and environmental health sciences at West Virginia University, told Seeker.

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"The emissions could specifically come from manufacturing but they also could come from ancillary sources such as power production, transportation and domestic heating and cooking," he said. "What makes them actual sources [of pollution] is the efficiency of controls on the release of the contaminants. Lower efficiency of control of the sources means higher concentrations being released."

The World Health Organization released a report in September 2016 revealing that 92 percent of the world breathes polluted air. Breathing air that exceeds toxicity limits recommended by WHO can lead to serious health risks like stroke, heart disease and lung cancer. China ranked sixth on the list for number of deaths linked to air pollution each year.

Warm temperatures and humidity can trap pollutants and put people at greater risk for disease.

"These higher concentrations of air pollutants - especially the particulate - most notably result in an increase in cardiovascular disease, lung disease and cancer," McCawley said. "The overall result is a shortened life expectancy usually expressed by epidemiologists in terms of potential years of life lost, weighing the effect of mortality at an earlier age more heavily."

In early December, Beijing and parts of northern China issued an orange alert for air pollution as high temperatures and humidity blanketed the area in a thick, heavy smog. Many outdoor activities were prohibited, large vehicles were not allowed on roads and the Hebei province completely closed some sections of highway.

As the world's leading greenhouse gas emitter, China has been prompted to take action in recent years. Several coal-fired power plants and other factories with high emissions have been closed, and vehicle restrictions have been imposed in multiple cities.

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China's current premier, Li Keqiang, pledged in March 2016 that China would have air quality deemed "good" for 80 percent of the year. However, evaluations by the Chinese Academy of Engineering in July reported that at least seven provinces not only failed to meet this goal, but saw air pollution increases.

Beijing is planning to take further action for cleaner air in 2017. In addition to the environmental police force, the city's last coal-powered plant will be officially shut down, and coal consumption is expected to be cut by 30 percent. There are also plans for 2,560 factories to be renovated in order to meet current environmental standards.

According to McCawley, China's best hope for improving their air quality is to learn from how Western countries have dealt with the same problem. "The West has learned that morbidity and mortality have economic and social consequences that may be difficult to calculate but are certain," he said. "The hope is that the developing countries can find ways to use that to lessen the impact of rapid development on their populations and maintain economic stability."

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