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Faculty Weigh Impact of Viral Anti-Pollution Documentary in China

VOA Chinese spoke with Dr. Zuo-Feng Zhang and Dr. Yifang Zhu about their Fielding School research and their thoughts on a new online video, already viewed more than 200 million times, highlighting China's air pollution problem.
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Wednesday, March 4, 2015
Beijing pollution (Photo by Tony Kent)
Early morning in Beijing (Photo by Tony Kent)

Chinese journalist/fillmmaker Chai Jing has caused a nationwide stir after she posted an environmental documentary over the weekend called Under the Dome. The 104-minute video, which details China's air pollution problem and the related health impacts on generations of citizens, has already been viewed hundreds of millions of times in China and around the world, according to various news sources.

Chinese-language news outlet Voice of America (VOA) Chinese reached out to FSPH Professor of Epidemiology and Associate Dean for Research Zuo-Feng Zhang, and Associate Professor of Environmental Health Sciences Yifang Zhu for their reaction to the video. Both are experts in the field of air pollution and environmental exposure assessment who have devoted much of their work to addressing major public health issues in China.

"Many scientists have done research on air pollution and health impact, but never has any air pollution-related research had such a great and effective impact in awakening Chinese citizens’ involvement in the in the anti-air pollution campaign because it is difficult to translate scientific results in literature into a story understandable to the general public," said Dr. Zhang. "The great success of the documentary is that it translates scientific research effectively to a comprehensive story on seriousness of China’s air pollution issue, calls for citizen’s participation and also puts pressure on the Chinese government to pay much more attention in effectively controlling environmental pollution problems in China."

In the VOA article, Dr. Zhu agreed and said she hoped the video could catalyze public and government support to address China's air pollution in a more timely and efficient way. "We should focus on the big picture, the importance and societal impact of the documentary, not its technical details," Zhu said.

Dr. Zhang concluded the news story by discussing pollution-related research being done at FSPH, including work that links certain air pollutants to higher rates of cancer consistent with the documentary. 

Watch the full new story (in Chinese)