Globalized Pollution: Asian Smog Floats to American Skies

By Smriti Rao | January 21, 2010 6:13 pm

city-skyscraper-smog-air-neAmerica seems to be more and more linked to Asia–not just by complicated financial ties, but also by currents of air pollution that are boosting smog levels in American skies. For years scientists wondered why some rural areas in the western United States had high levels of ozone, when the areas had very little industry or automobile traffic. The answer, apparently, was blowing in the wind.

A new study, published in Nature reveals that springtime ozone levels in western North America are on the rise, because of air pollution coming in from south and east Asia.

The study, led by Owen R. Cooper, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Colorado, examined nearly 100,000 observations two to five miles above ground — in a region known as the free troposphere — gathered from aircraft, balloons and ground-based lasers [Los Angeles Times]. This is the area between the stratosphere, that contains a thin layer of ozone to filter out harmful UV rays, and the ground. Researchers found that ozone levels in the monitored area jumped 14 percent between 1995 and 2008. When data were included for 1984, the year with the lowest average ozone level, the increase from that date up to 2008 was a whopping 29 percent [AFP].

The researchers haven’t yet determined exactly how much of the ozone increase comes from Asia but they found that the increase was about twice as much when prevailing winds came from South and East Asia [Los Angeles Times]. Researchers say this spike in ozone could make it hard for the United States to stay under pollution limits for ground level air set by the Clean Air Act. Ground-level ozone is also linked to serious health problems, and can cause or aggravate heart and lung conditions.

The rising ozone levels in the free troposphere may also have repercussions that go beyond local air quality. In a Nature commentary that accompanied the study, atmospheric chemist Kathy Law wrote that higher ozone levels “certainly have implications for climate change, causing warming either at the mid-latitudes where ozone forms, or in sensitive regions such as the Arctic to which ozone might be transported” [Los Angeles Times].

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Image: iStockphoto

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Space
MORE ABOUT: asia, ozone, pollution, smog
  • Frank


    How much does that knockoff cashmere sweater really cost when you factor in your kids asthma?

  • Doug

    This is of course why the only environmental reform that matters is global environmental reform. I’ve always felt that the best trade policy promotes fair trade between nations, with the goal being the health and stability of its people and environments. Why not make a trade policy that allows unrestricted free trade with a nation as long as that nation meets the standards of environmental regulations, workers safety, inspection, enforcement of those regulations and public health of a developed nation, and if they don’t slap a sales tax on the product for each violation, say 15% per. That way if the nation doesn’t want its products to cost 60% more on the shelf it just has to start running things the right way.

  • Jess

    when america finds something that might not acutally be their fault they like to jump on it. XD

  • Mike

    I try as best I can to buy fewer and fewer items made in China. Most of it, I find is stuff I don’t need. You can go into the mall, say to Pottery Barn and most everything there is made in China. It’s crazy. Breathing their toxic fumes is not worth having our malls and Wal-Marts stocked with cheap stuff.

  • Dave


    Careful there, you’re making too much sense… A lot more than the gov. makes.

  • badnicolez

    Great idea, Doug @#2. At least that way the people who consume the materialistic crap made in China have to pay for the pollution that producing the crap causes. Although the tariff should be more like 35%.

    I actively seek out products not made in China when I do need to buy something. Six different corkscrews from which to choose at Wal-mart, I bought the one (made in Italy) that was not made in China.

  • Simon Hawthorne

    It is refreshing to see that many users here are waking up like the rest of the US to the reality that low quality goods made without proper enviromental controls are not good. That and letting a dictatorship who spies on american citizens critical of its policies have two trillion of our debt.

  • marty

    Yes Simon – the USA is in an unenviable position of having its economy now controlled from outside its borders.

    gotta cut that debt…it hurts. but it has to be done.

    i too try to buy stuff not made in china…but be very careful. it may say “made in canada”…only becuase it was PACKAGED here. canadian gov’t has to change its laws about points of origin for consumer goods.


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