Our insatiable demand for junk made overseas has come back to haunt us.

Researchers at UC Irvine and other institutions this week published a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that says Chinese pollution is reaching our shores, and that it's the direct result of our own desire for cheap goods made there.

In fact, UC Irvine earth system scientist Steve Davis, co-author of the study, told us …
 … there's enough Chinese pollution reaching our shores that it puts L.A. over the top of the threshold for unhealthy air one day a year.

That extra day of unhealthy air is the result of nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide from China, the researchers say. According to UC Irvine:

On other days, as much as a quarter of the sulfate pollution on the U.S. West Coast is tied to Chinese exports. All the contaminants tracked in the study are key ingredients in unhealthy smog and soot.

Now, those unhealthy days (or “unhealthful,” as the South Coast Air Quality Management District calls them) are fewer and farther between thanks to California-mandated improvements in car emissions and the AQMD's own work with regional industry.

But it's telling that, as American manufacturing declines, we still find a way to get a little bit of smog, even if it comes from way across the Pacific.

Davis says in a statement:

We've outsourced our manufacturing and much of our pollution, but some of it is blowing back across the Pacific to haunt us. Given the complaints about how Chinese pollution is corrupting other countries' air, this paper shows that there may be plenty of blame to go around.

Credit: UC Irvine

Credit: UC Irvine

The worst time of year for these pollutants – researchers identified “black carbon” as the worst of them – is in spring, when onshore winds bring us air from Asia. 

Right now is not bad. Although our own pollution can build up because of the warm conditions lately, offshore winds fend off anything coming from Asia, Davis told us.

Contrary to popular, myth, Davis tells us, Chinese pollution is “not readily visible.”

These are strange times. We're fully aware of the impact of our consumption on global warming, yet more and more of our stuff seems disposable.


We buy things to use for a few years with the expectation of getting rid of it. That's part of the problem. It's not just a matter of us being worried about pollution coming over. We have some role in creating that pollution to begin with by buying these goods and services.

Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow Dennis Romero on Twitter at @dennisjromero. Follow LA Weekly News on Twitter at @laweeklynews.

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