Research Finds Toxic Tradeoff in Pollution-Control Battle

by Terp Staff | Illustration by Valerie Morgan

As China enacts ambitious pollution control policies to improve air quality in urban areas, University of Maryland-supported research finds these measures may be shifting pollution elsewhere in the country.

A global team of researchers used computer models of interregional trade and chemical flows in the atmosphere to simulate clean-air policy scenarios in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region—home to more than 100 million people—and evaluate the unintended consequences outside the urban center.

Their results,published in Science Advances, suggest that reducing emissions and water consumption in the urban region worsened pollution in neighboring provinces. That’s likely because factory production and energy generation moved from Beijing into areas where pollution policies are more lenient.

“Our intention is certainly not to blame or discourage environmental policies designed to reduce air pollution,” says Kuishuang Feng, an associate research professor in the Department of Geographical Sciences and corresponding author on the study. “However, without considering the unintended side effects of isolated environmental policies, these might backfire and lead to an increase in environmental problems in other regions as well as an overall increase in pollution nationwide.”


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