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Air quality in guangzhou

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Studies
Wordcount: 2250 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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1. Introduction

Guangzhou, the capital city of Guangdong Province , is going to hold the 16th Asian Games in November 2010. Athletes and couches coming from 45 countries and regions will participate in the Asian Games which last for more than two weeks. Strongly competent as a host city (Table 1), Guangzhou is famous for its natural scenario of Baiyun Mountain and Pearl River, for its food and beverages, and for an enjoyable lifestyle. Thanks to the event, Guangzhou is now under the spotlight and attracts even more attention from both home and abroad.

Table 1 Quick facts of Guangzhou (Guangzhou International 2009)


Guangzhou /


Southern China

Climate type

Subtropical monsoon climate


7263 km2

Population (registered residents, 2008)

7.8 million

GDP per capita (2008)

11,696 USD

However, there is still suspicion about the air quality of Guangzhou. Whether it can sufficiently manage the problem air pollution remains a concern. In 1970s-1980s, manufacturing industry served as an important driver for the development of Guangzhou. Nowadays, exhaust gas of automobiles has become the major source of urban air pollution (He 2009). As a result, atmospheric pollution is not a new problem for the city.

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To tackle this problem, the municipal government has adopted a series of approaches. It announced to invest 600 million RMB (88 million USD) to lever a total of 2.4 billion RMB within two years to tackle air pollution, and 123 factories were moved or shut down in 2009 because of their heavy pollution to the air. (Yuan 2009) Most importantly, the government issued a three-year plan (2008-2010) with detailed, quantified criteria and clearly defined responsibility is to coordinate collective action to reduce air pollution (Guangzhou Municipality 2008).

In such context, this report attempts to review and analyze the recent state of air pollution in Guangzhou, as well as to evaluate its health impact on human. In the end, the report seeks to assess Guangzhou’s capability hold the Asian Games with satisfactory air quality.

2. Air Pollution in Guangzhou

The following figure (Fig. 2) summarizes the state of air in Guangzhou for the last ten years. From 2000, severity of air pollution began to increase, and reached its peak around 2004. Since then, air condition in Guangzhou started to improve and became much better recently. According to a recent analysis (PRDAIR 2009), most part of Guangzhou has reached Grade II in terms of Regional Air Quality Index, or RAQI (Fig. 3), which means concentration of all pollutants are generally within Grade 2 of National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

Note: several data points for 2000 and 2009 are missing here due to inaccessibility.

Considering the representativeness and accessibility of data, this report choose SO2, NO2 and respirable suspended particulates (PM10 or RSP) as main indicators for air pollution in Guangzhou. Thanks to the city’s environmental protection website which reports atmospheric information and data since 2000 (GZEP 2010), enough though not abundant data can be achieved and traced back to specific monitoring stations in the city. It should be noticed that unlike the PRDAIR research result above, the air quality data here are recorded in terms of Air Pollution Index (API), which is based on absolute concentration (e.g. mg/m3). Among these 10 monitoring stations, locations of five of them can be identified in public online mapping system (Google Maps). Considering that the Asian Games is going to be held in November, the report selected monthly average air quality data for November from 2000 to 2009, and present them with station mapping information

SO2. Strong policies have greatly reduced SO2 emission, especially restricting policies on heavy industry factories. One most visible example is that 147 polluting firms in the old city centre had been either moved or shut down from 1998 to 2005. In addition, public and private investments in desulphurizing facilities for factories, heating and cooking have also decreased SO2 pollution. (Zhou 2008) By the year of 2009, SO2 concentration monitored at all the five stations are below 50, which reaches Grade II regarding the national air quality grading system.

NO2. Reduction in NO2 emission is less significant than that of SO2. In Guangzhou, exhaust of automobile is the main source of NO2 emission (Zhou 2008). Despite the policy which completely bans motorbike from entering central urban area since 2007 (Guangzhou Municipality 2004), NO2 concentration increased again in 2009 after a short-term drop in 2008. Restricting motorbikes has not contributed much to overall NO2 reduction, because people enjoying an increasing income may shift from motorbikes to cars. Moreover, emission from local industry is not controlled as strictly as that of SO2 emission, which also offset the effect of motorbike ban. (Zhou 2008)

PM10. Pollution of suspended particulates is relative severe. Even the lowest average level monitored (at Station 4) is above 50. PM10 is a secondary pollutant, and its generation can be traced back to automobile exhausts and industrial activities in the city (He 2009). In 2009, count of days with haze for the first half of year was 96, while for the second half was 14. It is believed that this abrupt decrease is related to aftermath of global financial crisis—reduced manufacturing activity and logistics activity. Though level of PM10 pollution in Guangzhou is lower than many Asian cities (GZEP 2010; ADB 2006), it is as high as three times of the guideline standard of World Health Organization (WHO 2006). In fact, PM10 is closely related to respiratory diseases, which is among main concerns of public health in Guangzhou. Its impact on human health will be examined in the next section.

3. Health Impact of Air Pollution

On average, one person takes in 15 m3 of air per day (He 2009). Clean air is thus essential to human health. By 2008, annual average concentrations of NO2 and PM10 have both exceeded the WHO air quality guideline level, and PM10 concentration is slightly above WHO’s interim target (GZEP 2010; WHO 2006). According to data from GZEP (2010), PM10 is the major pollutant of air pollution. Moreover, it has the primary health impact on human respiratory organs. A study shows that the harm done by pollution of particulates on body is comparable to that by cigarette smoking (ALA 2009). This might contribute to the fact that rate of lung cancer has not significantly decreased although rate of cigarette smoking in Guangzhou is largely reduced (He 2009).

In the short-term, pollution of particulates can be severe, or even death. Besides coughing and wheezing, asthma and dysfunction of lung may also be caused by exposure to particulate pollution. Previous researches have strengthened the relation between short-term to many public health problems. Hong et al. (2002) observe a positive link between increased PM concentration and stroke mortality in Seoul, Korea. Another research in Gaoxiong, Taiwan also implies the relation of particulate pollution with occurrence of strokes (Tsai et al. 2003).

Long-term, or chronic exposure to particulate pollutants has significant health impact. According to Pope (2000), long-term particulate pollution can result in one to three years of human life shortening. Health impact of chronic air pollution can be seen in many ways in everyday life of Cantonese people, particularly in elder Cantonese people. Lung cancer has become a common disease in Guangzhou. In 2008, Dr. Nanshan Zhong, director of Guangzhou Institute of Respiratory Disease, discovered through operations that lungs of Cantonese above 50 years old were usually “black”, even if they did not have lung diseases (He 2009). But one needs to notice that this phenomenon is related to previous rather than present status of air quality in Guangzhou, because it is common only in the above-50 age group.

4. Conclusion: Ready for the Asian Lungs?

Venues and infrastructure are being built. Personnel and volunteers are being trained or have already start working. Guangzhou is definitely making an effort to welcome the quests for Asian Games. But whether the air in Guangzhou is ready for the Games remains unclear.

On one hand, the problem of air pollution in Guangzhou have caused severe public health problem, and does not have a simple solution. Past research also shows that air quality is worse in winter and spring than in summer and autumn (PRDAIR 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009). These have all given rise to health concern and may potentially undermine the 16th Asian Games.

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However, on the other hand, environmental monitoring data indicate that air quality in Guangzhou is improving, and Guangzhou Municipality has implemented a strict air quality management plan with clearly defined responsibility for specific departments. It is also considering some of the successful strategies taken in Beijing Olympic Games 2008. (Guangzhou Municipality 2008) Judging from previous successful experience of SO2 emission reduction and Olympic Games, the new implementation plan seems promising.

Therefore, it is still difficult to determine whether Guangzhou will be able to manage its air quality to a satisfactory level and provide the Asian Games with clean air. But regarding the government’s strong will to tackle air pollution, it is possible that air pollution could be managed for the Asian Games, but it is highly likely that most of the pollution reduction would be temporary rather than sustainable, and air pollution would slightly rebound after the Asian Games.


American Lung Association (ALA). 2009. State of the Air 2009. New York: Hard Copy Printing.

Asian Development Bank (ADB). 2006. Urban Air Quality Management: Summary of Country/City Synthesis Reports across Asia. Philippines: Asian Development Bank.

Google Maps. URL: http://maps.google.com. [consulted 3 Feb 2010].

Guangzhou Development District Planning Bureau (GDDPB). 2007. ‘Map of Guangzhou after Adjustment’. URL: http://ghj.luogang.gov.cn/old/zcfg/ShowArticle.asp?ArticleID=60. [consulted 5 Feb 2010].

Guangzhou Environmental Protection (GZEP). 2010. Online environmental information reporting and searching services. URL: http://www.gzepb.gov.cn/was40/api/. [consulted 3 Feb 2010].

Guangzhou International. ‘Facts’, official website of Guangzhou Municipality. URL: http://www.gz.gov.cn/vfs/web/gzeng_new/Facts.html. [consulted 3 Feb 2010].

Guangzhou Municipality. 2004. Announcement on restricting motorbikes in parts of urban area. Suifu [2004] No. 11.

2008. 2008-2010 air pollution in the implementation of comprehensive improvement plan. Guangzhou.

He, L. D. 2009. Cheng shi kong qi wu ran diao cha: Guang zhou zen me le [Survey on urban air pollution: what has happened to Guangzhou?]. Xinmin Weekly, 16 Apr 2009.

Hong, Y., Lee, J., Kim, H., Ha, E., Schwartz, J. and Christiani, D.C. 2002. Effects of Air Pollutants on Acute Stroke Mortality. Environmental Health Perspectives 110(2): 187-191.

Pope, C. A. 2000. Epidemiology of fine particulate air pollution and human health: biological mechanisms and who’s at risk? Environ Health Perspect 2000(108): 713-723.

Pearl River Delta Regional Air Quality Monitoring Network (PRDAIR). 2005. A report of Monitoring Results in 2005. Report Number: PRDAIR-2005-1.

2006. A report of Monitoring Results in 2006. Report Number: PRDAIR-2006-2.

2007. A report of Monitoring Results in 2007. Report Number: PRDAIR-2007-2.

2008. A report of Monitoring Results in 2008. Report Number: PRDAIR-2008-2.

2009. A report of Monitoring Results for the Period between January and June 2009. Report Number: PRDAIR-2009-

Tsai, S.S., Goggins, W.B., Chiu, H.F., and Yang, C.Y. 2003. Evidence for an association between air pollution and daily stroke admissions in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. Stroke 2003(34): 2612-2616.

World Health Organization (WHO). 2006. WHO Air Quality Guidelines for Particulate Matter, Ozone, Nitrogen Dioxide and Sulphur Dioxide (Global Update 2005). Switzerland: WHO.

Yuan, D. 2009. Guang zhou tou 6 yi zhi kong qi wu ran [Guangzhou invests 600 million against air pollution]. Nanfang Daily, 6 Jul 2009.

The RAQI, used by governments of Guangdong and Hong Kong to jointly report regional air quality, is a composite indicator for measuring the aggregate level of SO2, NO2, ozone and respirable suspended particulates (PM10). The higher the index value, the higher the regional air pollution levels. The index value is in positive relation to the higher the regional air pollution levels. (PRDAIR 2008)


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