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US sends factories to Asia, gets ozone in return

Choking on cheap consumer products

The West’s massive shift of manufacturing to Asian locations – which have a reputation for looser environmental standards – is having an unforeseen and unwanted outcome: some of the pollution offshored to Asia along with jobs and factories is returning to the West.

That’s the conclusion reached by a team of US researchers who have found ozone from Asian smog reaching America’s west coast. The study, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research (abstract here), finds that Asia’s contribution to intercontinental pollusion is higher than previously thought.

According to Princeton chemist Meiyun Lin, Asian emissions “directly contribute to ground-level pollution in the United States”.

In fact, on more than half the occasions when atmospheric ozone exceeded the EPA’s air quality standard of 75 parts per billion, the researchers believe the excess had arrived from across the Pacific.

As this piece from Nature notes, international pollution is politically fraught. However, studies such as this could at least help provide early warning of rising pollution to people with health problems.

Daniel Jaffe, a University of Washington, Bothell, chemist, says that Asia’s expanding industry is contributing to American ozone pollution at the rate of 0.8 to 1 percent annually.

In particular, the paper says, Asian ozone descends behind cold fronts, with a lead time of between one and three days to arrive in areas like the LA basin. ®

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