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Chinese netizens mock expert's research on smog / by Wu Jin, November 25, 2016 Adjust font size:

A paper stole headlines and stirred up controversy by proclaiming China's smog which is neutral by PH value is different from the lethal acid fog that affected around 12,000 lives with cardiovascular and respiratory diseases in London some 60 years ago.

The conclusion sparked online satire with some netizens ridiculing the author: "you can breathe more if you like," and "is there any nutrition (among the smog) tested (during the research)."

However, Wang Gehui, the author and geophysicist from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), argued that media outlets have misguided the audience and misinterpreted his research.

Wang's paper will be published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States. He worked on the research with Peking University, the Institute of Atmospheric Physics of CAS, Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences and foreign experts from the Unites States, Britain and Israel.

The author explained he was not aware of the debate heating up among the internet community until a reporter contacted him regarding the issue.

"In previous reports, the researchers failed to figure out the difference between China's smog and Britain's fog," Wang said. "When nitrogen dioxide among other oxidants works on the sulfur dioxide attached to particles or fog-drops, a liquid chemical reaction will take place to form sulfates."

"The chemical processes are almost the same except for where they happen. A particle is much smaller than the size of a fog drop," he added.

According to Wang, China has a large amount of ammonia in the air which interacts with sulfate during its formation to counteract the acid particles so that the smog turns out to be neutral. Thus, he stressed the neutrality refers only to the smog's PH value.

Wang also explained that the pollutants in the devastating haze in London contained strong acid particles with densities much higher than today's sweeping smog in China.

According to the research, which focused primarily on the cause of China's smog, the rampant smog in China consists of polluting chemicals, including sulfates, nitrates, ammoniac salts, organic matters and black charcoals, released predominantly from coal-fired power plants, factories and fossil-fueled vehicles. Additionally, there is also grit and dust dispersed from construction sites.

Wang said, the smog, despite its shrinking PM2.5 density based on the data collected in winters both in 2011 and 2012 in Beijing, still looks thick because the ratio of inorganic salts (which can absorb light) in the air is growing.

A pivotal step to improve the air quality is to reduce the nitrogen oxides, which are the major pollutants contained in the smog, said Chai Fahe, deputy president of the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences, during his interview with People's Daily in 2014.

The emissions of nitrogen oxide from factories will transform into nitrogen dioxide, a severe pollutant detrimental to air quality. The nitrogen oxides when meet with steamed water molecules will give birth to a nitrate radical, a major component of acid rains. When the nitride ions contained by the nitrogen oxides fall onto water surfaces and penetrate deep enough they will lead to the eutrophication of the aquatic environment, not to mention, the chemicals' critical role in shaping the PM2.5 particulates, the smog