Yesterday, the northern Chinese city of Harbin experienced the worst-ever recorded smog day in China, with visibility of less than 10 metres in some places (see our photo gallery). One Dutch designer has come up with a novel way of helping to deal with the problem: installing an "electronic vacuum cleaner" underneath the grass in parks.
According to a story on Dezeen, Daan Roosegaarde has signed a memorandum of understanding with the mayor of Beijing to bring the technology to a park in the city in the next year or two.
Here's how it works: buried underneath the park will be coils of copper wire, which will create a weak electrostatic field to pull the smog particles out of the air. "It's a similar principle to if you have a statically charged balloon that attracts your hair," Roosegaarde told Dezeen. Roosegaarde's studio has been able to create a smog-free hole of one cubic metre in a five-by-five metre room. In a park setting, they hope to create 50 to 60 metres of clean air.
Roosegaarde acknowledges that innovative as the design may be, it's no long-term solution to China's smog problem. "It could be a first step in creating awareness of how bad it really is," he said. "Because you see the difference really clearly."
Today, the Beijing government announced new emergency measures meant to tackle the city's perennial smog problems, reports AP. The measures include shutting down factories and construction sites, and even restricting private vehicles to operating every other day, based on license plate number. These would go into effect based on forecasts of heavy pollution days.
“The purpose of these measures announced today is merely to try to arrest the deteriorating trend,” Fang Li, vice director of the city’s Environmental Protection Bureau, told reporters.
Smog is caused when emissions from sources like coal-fired plants and vehicles are released into the air. The gases and fine particles from these emissions react with sunlight and heat, producing a variety of so-called "secondary" air pollutants, like ozone and nitrous oxides. According to AP, about a quarter of the smog in Beijing is blamed on vehicle emissions, with the rest coming from coal plants and factories. Heavy smog can inflame breathing passages and reduce lung capacity. It has also been blamed for increased cancer rates and even certain birth defects. The Canadian Medical Association has estimated that upwards of 20,000 Canadians die every year as a result of air pollution.