Environment

Chinese Cities Deploy Useless Water 'Cannons' Against Smog


Pedestrians walk past two giant sprayers set up to lower dust and smog at the Dongfanghong Square in Lanzhou city, northwest Chinas Gansu province on May 5

Photograph by Imaginechina via AP Photo

Pedestrians walk past two giant sprayers set up to lower dust and smog at the Dongfanghong Square in Lanzhou city, northwest Chinas Gansu province on May 5

China’s infamous smog problems have inspired some creative thinking. Not necessarily practical thinking—or government dollars always well spent—but surely some inventive attempts at removing fine particle pollution from the air.

The latest example comes from the city of Xi’an, capital of Shaanxi province, where the local government has spent 900,000 yuan ($146,000) to build what Chinese newswire Xinhua describes as “a removable mist cannon.” The 10-ton cylindrical device, purchased from a company in Guangzhou, shoots tiny water droplets up to 600 meters into the air. The theory is that the water will adhere to pollution particles, and the added weight will cause them to fall to the ground.

Pan Xiaochuan, an environmental expert at Peking University, told Xinhua, however, that the water cannon is more suitable for removing construction dust than for cleansing the air of PM 2.5, the fine pollution particles less than 2.5 microns in diameters that can penetrate the lungs and other organs.

People’s Daily carried a report of a similar water cannon mounted on the back of a truck patrolling the streets of Zhangjiakou, a city in Hebei province.

The conspicuous new hardware will, at a minimum, allow local leaders to brag about doing something—however ineffective—in response to mounting complaints about persistent smog.

Larson is a Bloomberg Businessweek contributor.

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