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Smoke + Fog = Smog (and Other Dire Results)

Currently (January 2013), the air quality in Beijing, China, became the worst on record (see photo):

  • Pollution was 30-45 times above any recommended safety levels
  • Particulate matter measuring less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter was measured as high as 900 micrograms per square meter
  • According to the World Health Organization, the level of safety is no more than 20 micrograms per square meter
  • The U.S. Embassy in Beijing posted this warning: "Everyone should avoid all physical activity outdoors; people with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should remain indoors and keep activity levels low."
  • Within the U.S., the Riverside-San Bernardino metro area is the smoggiest, with 110 "bad" smog days in 2012...it also had 24 "red-alert" days (i.e. air quality is so bad that anyone could experience adverse health effects)
Task 1: Investigate some of the science underlying what these numbers mean (.e. measures of partculate matter). Are there certain "elements" within smog that make it worse?

Task 2: Create a ranking of which cities/areas are the worst smog-wise...both internationally and specific to the United States.

Task 3: What is the current stance of the U.S. Environmental Protection Association (EPA) on reducing pollution...and are these standards working?

Final Note: Supposedly, London experienced the worst air pollution ever, in 1952 (see photo). Due to a temperature inversion, cool air with pollutants were trapped by a warm air layer. Mixed with a wet fog, these pollutants produced a black smog that was so dense that often you could not see your own feet. It was responsible for 4000 deaths over a 5-day period, with an estimated 8,000 more fatalities in the following weeks from exposure to the noxious air pollution.