Health Hazards Expats Face in China

The environmental issues in China, including air and water pollution, are one of the challenges that have emerged due to the country’s rapid industrialization. While gross domestic product (GDP) has grown about 10% each year for more than a decade, it has come at the expense of environmental and public health. In fact, the rapid economic growth in China has resulted in the country becoming the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases.

The economy and job prospects continue to be appealing for expats, but many are unhappy with the quality of life they experience; China has fallen to 55th place in a global survey of expats. According to InterNations, as many as 85% of expats in China reported being unhappy with the environment, which was much higher than the global average of 23%; this is likely due to the fact that most China expats live in big cities where pollution tends to be worse. While these statistics may be concerning for expats, the survey also found that almost 70% of expats were happy with their job, and almost 75% rated the Chinese economy as favorable.

When expats are faced with environmental concerns in China, there are a number of simple precautions that can be taken to maintain health and improve overall quality of life. This guide is meant to present you with insight into some of the environmental hazards expats in China are subject to and to identify the simple precautions that can be taken to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Top China Environmental Issues
Air pollution and water pollution are two of the biggest health hazards expats in China face today. Let’s briefly discuss each of these issues:

Air Pollution
The air pollution in China is evident in pictures that you’ve likely seen of Beijing where heavy smog blocks out the sun, or of Chinese people wearing masks in an effort to protect themselves. In China, dark shades of gray tell apart one day from the next. The U.S Embassy in Beijing is solely responsible for the monitoring and evaluation of the Air Quality Index (AQI). According to the Environmental Protection Agency an AQI reading above 300 means that the air is not safe to breathe. When readings meet or exceed this level, it’s advisable for all people to remain within the confines of their homes with air purifiers turned on.

In a report by the Washington Post, there were about 19 days in January 2013 alone that the AQI readings in Beijing surpassed this set 300 threshold. It’s no longer an unusual occurrence to find an AQI reading that is above 500.

Beijing’s 4 million-plus cars, and the manufacturing industries, all play a role in the air pollution in China. However, most experts blame the poor air quality on the country’s huge coal-burning electrical plants, which burn about 47% of the world’s coal, that are behind its economic growth.

Even though air pollution looks unpleasant, and can result in sinus congestion, a runny nose, and/or itchy eyes, if you’re healthy, it’s unlikely that you’ll suffer long-term health effects.

Water Pollution
A year or two back, there was a sighting of thousands of dead pigs floating in the Huangpu, Shanghai, waters. Dramatic and unsightly as they were, there have been other issues in the country’s water. According to the Wall Street Journal, there were no less than 20 people hospitalized when Benzene was accidentally leaked into the Huangpu River. This chemical compound is a cancer-causing agent. With all the fuss around the issue, most China expats rely on fire trucks to deliver safe drinking water.

In another report by the Economist, more than half of China’s territorial surface waters are so polluted that they aren’t deemed safe for drinking, even after treatment. What is even scarier is that about a quarter of these waters are so hazardous that they can’t even be put to industrial use. What’s more? The groundwater in China is not any safer. In a Reuters report, about 40% of China’s farmland relies on groundwater for irrigation purposes and about 90% of these waters are polluted.

Precautions for Expats in China
While the Chinese government is slowing making progress on solving the air and water pollution issues in the country, there are some simple tips that you can follow to lead a healthy and safe life while residing in the country, including:

Air Pollution Precautions
Exercise regularly; however, avoid overexertion on days with severe air pollution
Use air purifiers at night, in addition to using pollution meters, and back-up air filters to improve the air quality in your living environment
Fill your home and office with air purifying plants
Check the weather report often – if there are severe air pollution warnings, stay indoors if possible
If you’re heading outdoors when air pollution levels are high, wear a high quality protective mask, with a high pollution blocking rating
Water Pollution Precautions
Install water filters in your home to improve the quality of tap water (including drinking water purifiers, laundry filters, faucet filters, and shower filters)
Drink bottled water from reputable sources
Investing in Quality Health Insurance
If you plan to stay in China to work and live there for some time, it is highly recommended that you acquire quality expat health insurance. With the current air and water pollution in China, investing in health insurance can help to ensure that you and your loved ones are protected for any health -related issues that may arise.

In many major cities in China, expats have the option of a few relatively good public hospitals; however, payment methods and quality of treatment may be inadequate. On the other hand, expats also have the option of foreign-run hospitals but these options can result in costly medical bills for emergency treatment and medications. If you’re an expat living in a city with high air and water pollution, you may want to consider an out-patient medical option as part of your health insurance plan that will cover medical expenses, hospitalization, medications, and emergency treatment, if necessary.

If you’re an expat living in China, you may be faced with environmental issues including water and air pollution. The good news is that you can maintain a healthy lifestyle by using some simple precautions while enjoying all that China has to offer. For peace of mind, consider investing in a quality health insurance plan so that you’re covered in case any health issues arise while you’re living in the country.

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