[Expose] Hazardous air: What goes into our lungs?

Clean air is a basic health requirement for every human being. However, air pollution across the globe is constantly threatening human health.

Clean air is a basic health requirement for every human being. However, air pollution across the globe is constantly threatening human health.

© Greenpeace

Hazardous air: What goes into your lungs?


We are faced with invisible airborne killers – tiny floating particles of PM2.5. They have a diameter of less than 2.5 microns, about 1/28th the diameter of a human hair. They cannot be blocked by our nose or throat, and so they are easily absorbed into our bodies through the respiratory tract. PM2.5 is a poison.

Heavy metal is no music to our ears

This January we invited 9 volunteers in Beijing to wear an air pollution sampler. We analyzed the air they collect and discovered a cocktail of poisonous heavy metals in the samples they collected. There was arsenic (carcinogenic), cadmium (can damage the kidneys and bones) and lead (can harm the nervous and immune systems). The levels of arsenic were four times higher than China’s own environmental safety limit.

PM2.5 every year causes 83,500 premature deaths

We studied the health impacts of coal plants in three of China’s major coal-consuming provinces – Shandong, Shanxi and Inner Mongolia. We found out that PM2.5 pollution from the 637 power plants in these three provinces caused 83,500 premature deaths, caused nearly 130,000 cases of asthma and more than 140,000 cases of chronic bronchitis in 2011.

PM2.5 is not just a problem for people in mainland China. It affects all of us here in Hong Kong too. After many years of Greenpeace campaigning, at the beginning of last year, the Hong Kong government finally included PM2.5 into its air quality monitoring data and it also plans to start updating its Air Quality Objectives next year.

But this is not enough to tackle the problem. Burning coal for electricity is the main source of Hong Kong’s air pollution, and so we have been promoting energy efficiency. If we consume less energy, less coal is burned, and so fewer people are harmed or even killed.

The Age of Coal is Dead: Here Comes Clean Energy!


Humans have relied on coal for far too long, and our planet has suffered for it. If we want to protect people from the terrible health threats of air pollution then we need to solve the problem at its source. Simply: We need to stop using so much coal, and put all our resources into developing clean energy instead.

Our First Success: China Announces New Tough Clean Air Plan

After intense Greenpeace lobbying against coal and air pollution generated much public debate in the mainland, this September the Chinese government announced its toughest ever measures to tackle air pollution by 2017. The new action plan aims to cut China’s total coal consumption to below 65% of its total primary energy use by 2017. New coal-fired power plants construction will be banned in the heavily-polluted Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region and both the Yangtze Delta and the Pearl River Delta regions.

Our Second Success: Solar flare in Rio

Do you remember how we set up solar panels on a warehouse rooftop in Beijing and then connected it to the grid? Our Brazilian office did the same this June. As part of their Solar Youth Project they installed a 5 kW PV system at the Morro dos Macacos favela in Rio de Janeiro. The project got young kids involved, teaching them about a new technology and provided the community with cheaper greener power.