This Country's Air Is So Polluted That Panasonic Is Giving Its Workers Hazard Pay

Spoiler alert: It's China.

Cars travel on an overpass amid thick haze in Beijing on Feb. 26. (Photo: Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)

Mar 14, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Kristine Wong is a regular contributor to TakePart and a multimedia journalist who reports on energy, the environment, sustainable business, and food.

Need some extra money and don’t mind the long-term effects of noxious air pollution? Consider taking a gig with Panasonic in China.

The Japanese electronics company announced Wednesday that its workers in the smog-ridden country will get a salary add-on as compensation for living with hazardous air pollution. Panasonic is believed to be the first international company to publicly cite exposure to China’s air pollution as the reason for the extra pay.

“That’s the first time I’ve heard any company be quite so brazen about it,” Beijing-based recruiter Robert Parkinson told the Financial Times. “The normal style would be to dress it up as a ‘developing country allowance.’ ” He went on to say that it’s a bit like telling workers, “We know we are exposing you to something life-threatening,” and we are going “to admit that and compensate you for it.”

A Panasonic spokesperson declined to provide additional information about the payments or how many of its employees are stationed in China, according to AFP. Chinese citizens will not be eligible.

Panasonic cited high levels of PM 2.5, fine particulate matter that includes dust, dirt, soot, and smoke, as the reason for the boost in pay. PM 2.5s’ tiny size—a fraction of the width of a human hair—makes them prone to getting lodged in the lungs and subsequently entering the bloodstream. This can lead to cancer or cardiopulmonary disease.

In the past year, harmful levels of PM 2.5 in the air in China have become more than just occasional instances. Last month, levels reached 505 micrograms per cubic meter—more than 20 times the level considered safe by the World Health Organization, reported The Guardian.

The Chinese government also recently revealed that only three of 74 cities met air quality standards that measure a host of pollutants, including particulate matter, ozone, carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide. Both short- and long-term exposure to urban outdoor air pollution has been linked to asthma, an increased risk of acute pneumonia, and lung cancer, according to the World Health Organization.

So what is China doing about its filthy air?

Last week, Premier Li Keqiang greeted legislators on the opening day of the National People’s Congress with a vow that he was “declaring war” on pollution.

The plans recently announced by other government officials include revamping the country’s environmental laws to control point source pollution, increasing energy efficiency, closing 50,000 small coal-fired furnaces, and deploying a squad of drones to police emissions 24 hours a day in Beijing. Separately, the capital city’s legislature has announced a plan to shut down 300 polluting factories in the city this year alone.

“We are going to declare a war on our inefficient and unsustainable model of growth and way of life,” Li said during a recent press conference.

So, listen up, Panasonic employees: If you want in on this hazard pay, best head to China ASAP, for if the government indeed cleans up its act, the pollution-for-dollars deal could have a short shelf life.