Study: Chinese Factories Export Air Pollution to U.S. West Coast

By Cassie Ryan
Cassie Ryan
Cassie Ryan
January 21, 2014 Updated: July 18, 2015

New research shows that consumer goods like cellphones that are made in China and exported to the United States add at least an extra day of smog per year in Los Angeles.

The international team found that the Chinese export industry caused excessive levels of nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide in Los Angeles for one or more days per year, and up to a quarter of the sulfate pollution in western coastal states on other days. The pollution is carried across the Pacific Ocean by prevailing winds called “westerlies.”

“We’ve outsourced our manufacturing and much of our pollution, but some of it is blowing back across the Pacific to haunt us,” said study co-author Steve Davis at the University of California–Irvine in a press release.

“…When you buy a product at Wal-Mart, it has to be manufactured somewhere. The product doesn’t contain the pollution, but creating it caused the pollution.”

Airborne contaminants, such as black carbon, have been associated with health problems, like cancer and lung disease. Black carbon can travel long distances, because rain does not tend to clear it from the atmosphere.

The scientists also studied the effects of the export industry on air quality in China, and estimated that goods exported to the United States created 3.6 percent of black carbon and 4.6 percent of carbon monoxide among other emissions in 2006.

Their study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Jan. 20.

Cassie Ryan
Cassie Ryan