National People's Congress

Pollution is one reason Guangzhou people’s lungs are turning black, warns expert

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 March, 2013, 1:13pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 March, 2013, 9:45am

In Guangzhou, people’s lungs are turning black as early as their 40s, top Chinese lung expert Zhong Nanshan says.

Zhong, a delegate of the National People’s Congress and faculty of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, cited research data to prove that PM2.5 fine air particulates pose the greatest health risks and can lead to lung cancer, according to a report by China Youth Network.

“Particulate matter (PM2.5) can be carriers for sulphur dioxide and even viruses. When they enter the lungs they will always stay there,” Zhong said on Wednesday.

He stressed that particulates have been proven harmful to human respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, and nervous systems.

Zhong said lung cancer cases in Beijing had increased by 60 per cent in the past decade. “This is a very alarming figure,” he said.

On combating China’s haze pollution, Zhong believed the most important thing was to change the mindset. “Let’s get this straight - is gross domestic product [GDP} more important - or our people’s health?”

He suggested the central government include pollution control in the evaluation of officials' performance.

“Achievements used to be measured in GDP. We can start from a few of the most severely polluted cities and include haze reduction as part of the evaluation criteria.”

Zhong also said it was technically possible to combat air pollution. “It took the British government 30 years to do so back then. I believe that if we are determined enough, China’s pollution problem can be solved in 10 years.”

Zhong distinguished himself as a Sars expert during the outbreak in 2003. He played a leading role in Sars prevention and control in Guangdong Province.

He is also a leading anti-smoking campaigner in China. Before the Spring Festival, Zhong sent a letter to the Chinese  Academy of Engineering asking it to cancel the academician title issued to Xie Jianping, known in China as  “tobacco academician” for his research in tar reduction in cigarettes. However, he did not receive any direct official response.

He recently protested against a CPPCC National Committee member’s claim that China needs to accelerate the development of a “green” ecological tobacco industry. Zhong dismissed the suggestion, explaining it ignored the dangers of smoking.

Zhong’s discussion on PM2.5 got on the radar of most national media, as well as China’s Sina Weibo. The blog post was re-tweeted over 1500 times, and more than 440 netizens joined the discussion on China’s haze pollution.

Most applaud Zhong’s honest, open attitude, while expressing concern about the health dangers. One wrote: “These are truly heartfelt words. Please re-tweet to support Professor Zhong and urge the introduction of new environmental protection laws. We must do something to protect our lungs!”

Another said: “The tragedy is that we are all aware of pollution, but unable to resist. Good luck to our future health - especially the health of our outdoor workers.”

A third asked: “Is there any way to ‘clean out’ our lungs?”

A fourth said: “My lungs probably have already turned black. It doesn’t matter - I’m old. But what about my child?”

A fifth wrote: “Beautiful China, it’s time to stop the engine and walk slow.”