Not only is pollution is shortening lives in the world’s most populous nation, but it is also an inescapable reminder of the trade-offs at the heart of China’s transition from a developing country into a prosperous, modern nation. While the Communist Party has been legitimized by the thriving economy, it now needs to balance the rush for economic growth against the threats to life and health.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang gives an address during a news conference in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing December 6, 2013. Photo courtesy of Resuters/Mark Ralston
China’s premier, Li Keqiang, has declared “war on pollution,” saying that the country would tackle it with the same determination it has used to fight poverty in the past three decades. Spoken at the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress earlier this year in March, Li’s remarks reflect government recognition of public displeasure over pollution and its impact on people’s health. Garlic Liu, a college student in Beijing said in an in person interview (Liu is currently studying abroad in Columbia University) “I can’t go out everyday. I have to choose when to go out so I don’t make my asthma worse. All my friends do the same thing. We hang out not when it is convenient for us but when it’s convenient for the weather. We all have a pollution app on our phones to check when it’s a good day.”
North River Wastewater Treatment Plant in New York City with a boat. Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
Every time people use water, it goes back down the drain less purified and clean than it was when it came out of the faucet. People, especially in the United States, take water accessibility and purity for granted so it is easy to forget about the implications of polluting water after use. While water may appear to be clean, it is often times contaminated with micropollutants after human use. Micropollutants are widely misunderstood because they are not easily found or observed. They are organic, mineral, or synthetic substances that accumulate in the environment and can have a negative affect on organisms because of their toxic nature. This definition exemplifies the “pollutant” part of micropollutant, but micropollutants are also characterized by the small size. These substances are found to be as small as a few atoms that make a molecule to as large as 5 mm in diameter. Three types of pollution that were previously discussed in depth are pharmaceuticals, antibacterial active ingredients, and microplastics.
Water Faucet. Courtesy of misterhyun/EveryStockPhoto
Due to a long history of pollution regulation and filtration, clean and drinkable water rushes out of the faucets in homes of most Americans every time the handle is turned. In fact, most people do not even think about where the water is coming from because of a long-established trust with local municipalities. But it turns out the water entering and leaving our sinks may not be as safe as previously assumed thanks to tiny micropollutants that are byproducts of materials like pharmaceuticals, cleaning supplies, and beauty products.