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article imageOp-Ed: China's pollution gets worse, but face masks still don't work

By Karen Graham     Mar 25, 2014 in Environment
Air pollution in China has become so bad that it has fueled a face-mask cottage-industry in the country. While most of the masks are no better than wearing a bandana over one's face, people are spending millions of dollars for this needed protection.
China's leaders are obsessed with keeping some form of stability in a population that has become more affluent. This new wealth has given rise to more awareness of the damage to the environment caused by the government's growth-at-all-costs economic model, and people can see the results in the poisoning of the air, land and water.
While the government has spent billions of dollars combating air pollution, none of their solutions has worked. With out-dated factories, the continued use of coal-burning power plants and cars spewing millions of tons of toxins into the air, the problem has only become worse. It is now estimated that air pollution causes between 350,000 to 500,000 premature deaths in China each year.
In January of this year, the Ministry of Environmental Protection issued a new report for the month of December, 2013, showing that all 74 of China's major cities had failed to meet environmental standards for more than 70 percent of the days covered in the report. It was found that the amount of PM2.5 and PM10, two key pollutants that are monitored for air quality, increased in December by 55.7 percent and 30.1 percent, respectively.
With this background of information, it is no wonder that people are looking for anything and everything to protect themselves from the deadly toxic air they have to breathe every day. It is now considered the norm to go outside with a face mask on, and people are paying upwards of over $30 a piece for one in the hopes they will work according to the information on the package.
If nothing else, somebody is making a bunch of money off China's pollution problem, and sadly, very few people are really being protected at all. Historically, face masks in China have been used as personal protective equipment in the industry an medical fields. So far, there have been no quality standards developed for their use by people as personal masks, despite the increase in demand.
Last year, according to Taobao, the countries leading e-commerce Internet site, consumers spent more than $140 million on anti-pollution articles such as face masks and air purifiers. Prices for face masks range from one yuan ($1 = 6.2250 Chinese yuan), to 199 yuan (or $32.15). But the effectiveness of the masks has been questioned.
China Central Television (CCTV), a state broadcaster, targeted Dadian, a village in the eastern province of Shandong. There are 300 little workshops, and the village supplies more than 80 percent of the face masks sold in China. In 2012, the village made 900 million face masks and brought in 1.1 billion yuan.
The CCTV report discovered that while a few of the shops made cotton face masks with filters in them, they were then sold to companies that then sold them on the market, claiming they offered protection against the effects of pollution. "The masks are not effective against PM2.5 particles," the CCTV report said. Jiang Xiubin, owner of the BinHai Face Mask factory and head of the Dadian face mask association, said the village only produces ordinary face masks, not anti-pollution masks.
With no environmental or quality standards guidelines, companies are bedazzling consumers with all types of scientific jargon on their packages, like anti-bacterial, anti-pollution and all sorts of numbers, most meaning nothing. Companies are also using the 3M logo, or a least, something vaguely resembling the logo, all in an effort to lend credence to the packaging.
Lei Limin, vice chairman of the China Textile Commerce Association, in referring to the small particles that pose the greatest risk to humans, said "The vast majority of face masks on the market give no protection against PM2.5, even if the manufacturers claim they do."
Hapless victims of the air pollution in China, much like populations the world over, are falling into the hands of unscrupulous entrepreneurs, out to make money out of this environmental disaster. It will be up to the Chinese government to establish quality control guidelines that are effective in the manufacture of anti-pollution face masks, not only for the protection of the population, but to continue to maintain stability across the country.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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