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China's smog 'a nuclear winter,' scientists say

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A Chinese scientist has claimed that the country's toxic air pollution problem has become so bad that it resembles a "nuclear winter" due to a slow-down in plant photosynthesis -- promising future problems in food production.

The World Health Organisation recommends a limit of 25 micrograms per cubic metre of particulate matter (PM) 2.5 in the air. Over the past week, Beijing and other provinces have been swathed in a toxic fog with a PM level of 505 micrograms per cubic metre, which can be a deadly health issue as the particles enter the lungs and bloodstream.

Public health, however, is not the only concern. Flights have been grounded, schools closed, factories shut, tourists have shied away and highways are empty.

The problem has worsened so much that, despite the Chinese government's promises to reign in the pollution, Shijiazhuang citizen Li Guixin has filed a lawsuit against the local environmental protection bureau for failing to tackle the problem.

He Dongxian, associate professor at China Agricultural University's College of Water Resources and Civil Engineering claims that new research shows the terrible impact the smog will have on the environment if it persists, and Chinese agriculture will suffer conditions similar to "a nuclear winter."

She demonstrated that air toxins are harmful to photosynthesis, cutting light by half and slowing the growth of plants.

After testing seed growth in the lab under synthetic light and in a suburban Beijing greenhouse, the researcher found that the lab plants sprouted in 20 days -- but the Beijing group took two months, and would be lucky to survive at all.

He warns that food production will be hampered if the conditions continue, and now, almost every farm is caught in a "smog panic" over their dwindling plants.

Read on: The Guardian

Image credit: Flickr

— By on February 26, 2014, 2:25 AM PST

Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure