From Polluted Air to Toxic Tea: 5 Health Threats in China

From Polluted Air to Toxic Tea: 5 Health Threats in China
Aug 30, 2016 By Danielle Martin ,

Living in China isn’t without its risks, and I don’t mean the daily near death experiences of dodging oncoming vehicles and e-bikes when the world and his wife flout the traffic rules and regulations. I’m talking about longer-term health risks. The ones associated with the food you eat, the air you breathe and the fluids you drink.  Yes my fellow expatriates, there are a number of concerns that you should heed and here we will take a look at some of the more common ones that give cause for concern and some of the lesser known ones you should consider paying attention to.

From Polluted Air to Toxic Tea: 5 Health Threats in China
Photo: Global Panorama

1) Air Pollution
The most obvious and well-known health concern that can cause a variety of long-term health issues is air pollution. We all know that China’s air quality is way above the recommended safety levels implemented by the World Health Organisation, but what is the fallout of breathing in this toxic air on a daily basis?

Beijing regularly registers levels of PM 2.5 particles, which are small enough to enter the bloodstream and invade deep into the lungs. PM particles are made up of sulphate, nitrates, ammonia, sodium chloride, black carbon, mineral dust and water and chronic exposure to these particles can lead to exacerbation of existing respiratory conditions such as asthma and COPD – chronic pulmonary obstructive disease – as well as cardiovascular disease and lung cancer.  That’s not to mention the daily damage to health such as coughing, wheezing, runny eyes and nose and exacerbation of flu-like symptoms. 

To put another way:  a study published in The Lancet, the revered British medical journal, in 2013 found that a summary of data from the Global Burden of Disease Study in 2010 attributed 1.2 million premature deaths in China to air pollution, which was an astonishing 40% of the global total at that time. Considering that air pollution has worsened and not improved since that time, it’s safe to say that these figures are alarming and not to be taken lightly.

Preventative measures that should be adhered to include travellers receiving the influenza vaccine, as well as susceptible people receiving pneumococcal vaccinations and taking with them any inhaled medications they may use.

2) Pesticides
Fancy a brew whilst browsing this article? Hold your horses, don’t put the kettle on just yet … in August 2014, Greenpeace released the findings of a new study which discovered that most of the popular tea brands that we all know and love – including Lipton - contained high doses of pesticide residue, with some of them testing positive for the long banned substance DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, used to kill weeds).  The study took samples from tea produced in China and India and found that the levels of pesticides were disturbingly above the safe levels set by the World Health Organisation. Of the 18 samples taken in China, 67% contained pesticides previously banned under the Stockholm Convention. One tea in particular, Richun’s Tieguanyin 803, showed up 17 different types of pesticides whilst a total of 14 tea samples exhibited pesticides known to harm unborn children or cause genetic mutations.

3) Bacteria Levels in Milk
There has been an outcry amongst the general population in recent years concerning China’s milk safety levels and the regulated bacteria count allowed in the production of milk. After the melamine scandal of 2008, huge changes were afoot in China’s food safety agencies and one of these brought about new levels for acceptable protein content and bacterial counts in raw milk. The newly-incorporated State Council Food Safety Commission sparked controversy in 2010 by lowering the standards from 2.95% to 2.8% for protein content and 500,000 per ml to 2 million per ml for bacterial counts.  If we compare these to the allowances set in the West, all protein content in milk must be over 3% whilst bacterial counts must not exceed 100,000, particularly in the European Union. 

Health issues to be aware of when ingesting dairy products that may not meet acceptable criteria are an increased risk of contracting campylobacter, E-Coli, listeria and salmonella and in less likely but extremely serious circumstances, germs from milk can lead to kidney failure, paralysis and other chronic disorders. People most at risk of developing illnesses are the elderly, young children, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems.     

4) Carcinogens such as Gutter Oil
Most of us are no stranger to the horrifying news reports that exposed the appalling gutter oil practices that unscrupulous street vendors were caught participating in, but to refresh your memory or for those who aren’t in the know, gutter oil got its name from the illegal practice of collecting used oil that had been disposed of down drains, from restaurant fryers, from slaughterhouses and from grease traps by scooping it back out and reusing it again. Another version of this filthy practice involved boiling all of the leftover animal parts and extracting the oil from the remains.

The terrifying health implications of this are that gutter oil has been shown to be extremely toxic and in best case scenarios will leave you with diarrhoea and abdominal pain. However for those who may have ingested it over a prolonged period of time, some reports have stated that long term consumption may lead to stomach and liver cancer whilst samples taken from the oil have been shown to contain traces of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH), a dangerous cancer causing pollutant. Another highly carcinogenic toxin found in gutter oil is that of aflatoxin – a compound produced by certain moulds, whilst ingesting oil that has been gathered from sewers may contain heavy metals, which can cause anaemia and toxic hepatitis. A word to the wise: if you’re not sure what you are eating, it may be best not to chance it.

5) Bottled Water Quality
One that may surprise and indeed worry you is the possibility that the bottled brands of drinking water that you’re purchasing are, in fact, unsafe for consumption. Bottled water in China is booming business thanks to the lack of regulation surrounding tap water quality. Air pollution and water pollution have meant that abundant supplies of water are unfit for consumption. Even after being filtered and sterilised at water treating facilities, most water does not meet the criteria for health and safety, therefore the majority of people fear it is contaminated and so shy away from drinking it.

However, after capitalising on this fear, the water companies are onto a good thing.  They monopolise the market and aren’t required to divulge their filtration methods or water sources on the packaging. Consequently, most people are in the dark as to what the product actually contains. A number of scandals have emerged in recent years of employees at bottling plants simply filling the bottles with tap water whilst others have committed fraud by falsely labelling the bottled water as another brand. Safety concerns are increasing and in 2009, China’s regulatory authorities uncovered elevated levels of bromide in the water they sampled. Bromide is a suspected carcinogen.In 2011, a number of water companies failed safety inspections, implicating over 30 consumer brands, one of which purportedly contained bacteria at more than 9000 times the acceptable level.

One thing to consider when buying your water is the cost. Most of us may refuse to buy the pricier bottles, such as Evian on principle since ‘water is water, it’s no different in this bottle or that bottle’. However, filtration costs coupled with production and bottling costs aren’t cheap and this process should be reflected in the price you pay. When a bottle of 500ml water costs just 1 RMB, it may be time to ask yourself, “are the government subsidising the cost of this bottle, or is my water actually more polluted than it may appear?”

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Keywords: living in China health threats China health concerns China


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No wonder the "Chinese Dream" is to move to the West.

Sep 04, 2016 03:32 Report Abuse



More ppl = more pollution and demand on energy and more waste. Yet, China just announced that Chinese are able to 2 kids per family.

Aug 30, 2016 22:06 Report Abuse



in china, Death walks in front of you

Aug 30, 2016 07:31 Report Abuse



I have an intolerance to monoglutamate sodium the Chinese salt. Are people sufferng from it in China. How do they handle it as all food is cooked with mgs. I'm going to china and want to avoid getting sick!

Apr 02, 2015 05:23 Report Abuse



what makes me laugh is that you all think the west is better....its the same more and more and everywhere, the whole world cheats each other. Easy life is in Thailand or the Philippines, Malaysia,India etc, but there is no money only smiles....make your choice you cannot have everything...

Feb 24, 2015 18:47 Report Abuse



Didn't know about the bottled water.

Feb 19, 2015 00:24 Report Abuse



Oh Fuck!..... I'm still here.... Idiot!

Feb 17, 2015 10:55 Report Abuse



Then there are the health hazards to one's emotional health - being around soulless materialistic zombies and maybe even slowly turning into one.

Feb 16, 2015 16:06 Report Abuse



Don't forget all the growth hormones they pump into their animals to make them grow faster and bigger. And, they have to use chemicals to get the fruits and veggies to grow faster. When you have 1.35 billion people to feed, you can not wait around for mother nature to do her job effectively and efficiently. Anything you eat here is going to effect you in the long term. With that said, why do we expat stay ere. And, why do more expats continue to come here. There are just some things we seem to accept as part of the adventure while living here in China.

Feb 16, 2015 14:21 Report Abuse



There is no excuse for what they are doing to pollute water, air and land. There is no excuse for putting chemicals/ hormones into food. That's just BS they are taught in school. And your "Why don't you go home" attitude won't fix China's problems. But by having foreigners here ensures the truth gets out and that is the only reason why the CCP even acknowledges these problems. You are welcome China.

Feb 18, 2015 12:42 Report Abuse



And another thing, if you were really from outside of China you would understand that only Chinese are brainwashed into thinking as a collective. There is no "why do we expats..."

Feb 18, 2015 12:47 Report Abuse



China is one big, disgusting health hazard.

Feb 16, 2015 11:26 Report Abuse



This accounts for Shenzhen mainlanders crossing the border daily. Yet another protest against the now infamous mainland tourists. Yesterday at a Hong Kong shopping mall near the border, 'Go home mainlanders', yelled young Hong Konger protesters at mainlanders. (details below)

Feb 16, 2015 09:43 Report Abuse



'For the second Sunday in a row, police were forced to use pepper spray to separate protesters and suspected parallel traders involved in scuffles. The venue this time was the New Town Plaza in Sha Tin, where hundreds of mainlanders were shopping for Lunar New Year products and gifts....A Hong Kong woman said the increasing number of mainland visitors had disrupted locals' daily lives and she now visits the mall less often."They are impolite. They hit people with the luggage they drag around and do not even apologize," she said'.

Feb 16, 2015 09:44 Report Abuse



Trouble flared after more than 100 young protesters marched from the Sha Tin MTR station through the New Town Plaza, chanting "mainlanders go back to the mainland" and telling mainlanders to "drink their own milk powder". ...As demonstrators advanced, shops rolled down their shutters - many with customers still inside - and escalators were stopped. ......One local, who gave her name as J.Chan, 29, said she resented mainlanders. "The situation is bad here. Sha Tin has become a parallel trading heaven," said Chan, who grew up in the district but moved away a year ago. "I once saw a mainlander just casually having a meal of siu mei [Chinese barbecue snacks] in a shopping mall nursing room. They have no manners and no culture."

Feb 16, 2015 10:52 Report Abuse



The corresponding video links are in the next comment in case echinacities forbids youtube links. You can easily locate the videos using these titles. • 1. Mainland Chinese Pees Inside a Canadian Shopping Mall • 2. Lady defecates in Singapore metro, Chinese migrant workers blamed • 3. Chinese pissing in Yoshinoya Restaurant, Disgusting!!! (This happened inside a Japanese restaurant in Hong Kong, the Hong Kong girl taking the video was saying, in cantonese, something like this to a bunch of mainlanders, "don't know what's wrong with your kid, this is Hong Kong, everyone here is eating, you have no reason to allow your kid to pee here {mainlander says doesn't know where the toilet is...dumb excuse, how typical, LOL} the toilet with a sign is just around the corner, don't know anything about toilets, you don't have toilets in the mainland? {mainlander says something about her looking down upon chinese, playing the racist card...even more dumb LOL} when you can't even train your kid you have no right calling yourself a chinese, when you don't know what respect is, you don't even deserve to be called a human being!" --- Bravo, Hong Kong girl! I bet traditional Chinese outside china wouldn't disagree with your calling yourself a Chinese)

Feb 16, 2015 18:49 Report Abuse



1) • 2) • 3)

Feb 16, 2015 19:05 Report Abuse