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Beijing Smog Prompts Transparency in Chinese Government

First Posted: Jan 14, 2013 04:14 PM EST

A layer of smog hung over Beijing on Monday morning, keeping schoolchildren indoors and sending coughing residents to the hospital. While smog is nothing new in Beijing, the conversation is. During other incidents, government officials played down the issues associated with the smog. This time, they have decided to speak out.

Smog is no laughing matter. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2009 found that the likelihood of dying from a respiratory disease was three times higher in metropolitan areas than in areas with lower ozone concentrations. In addition, it showed that the EPA's standards for airborne ozone do not protect against the long-term effects of exposure. If true, then the residents of Beijing are in trouble. The cloud of pollution that peaked on Saturday was one of the severest incidents on record, and it's unlikely that the situation will improve overnight.

China relies heavily on coal power in order to fuel its rapid industrialization. A growing middle class and an increase in vehicle ownership have also exacerbated the problem. Even if Beijing gets its smog levels under control, its citizens may face long-term impacts from smog exposure. Perhaps that is why the government has finally decided to hold news conferences and post messages on microblogs about the issue.

While Beijing may be receiving the most press, though, it isn't the only city that's suffered from smog. An estimated 3,700 deaths annually in the US can be attributed to an increase in smog levels, and cities such as Los Angeles have battled against the pollution for years.

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