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Chinese Man Sues His Polluted Hometown for Cost of Fighting Smog

A man in northern China filed a lawsuit against his smog-enshrouded city’s environmental protection bureau, saying it owed him for the money he spent on an air filter and a treadmill to exercise indoors.

Li Guixin’s lawsuit, which seeks 10,000 yuan ($1,635) in economic damages from officials in Shijiazhuang, is the first of its kind in China, his lawyer Wu Yufen said in a phone interview today. A district court in the city will decide by Feb. 28 whether to accept the case, Wu said.

The lawsuit reflects growing public concern over air pollution in China and smog’s effects on human health. Smog here has reached an “unbearable stage,” the government’s top climate-change adviser, Li Junfeng, said Feb. 23, and the topic is likely to be addressed when the country’s leaders gather March 5 for the annual two-week meeting of the National People’s Congress.

“Li Guixin couldn’t take a walk or run like the past as air quality worsened and he also has to wear a mask now when he goes out,” said Wu, who also lives in Shijiazhuang. “His case is relevant for everyone in our city.”

Shijiazhuang is among the 10 cities with the worst air pollution in China, according to China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection. The city’s air quality index has rated pollution there “very unhealthy” for the seven straight days, prompting advisories for people to cut outdoor activities, according to data from the China National Environment Monitoring Center.

Health Risk

The concentration of PM2.5, fine particulates that pose the greatest risk to human health, was as high as 406 today, the monitoring center said. The World Health Organization recommends 24-hour exposure to PM2.5 levels of no more than 25.

Li wants to be paid back for buying an air filter and a treadmill to exercise indoors, Wu said. He believes the city has the duty to protect its citizens and reduce air pollution, Wu said.

Li himself declined to comment when reached by phone today, referring questions to Wu. Two calls to Shijiazhuang’s environmental protection bureau went unanswered today.

The city took emergency steps that cut the number of private vehicles on its roads by 20 percent, the official Xinhua News Agency reported Feb. 23, citing people it didn’t identify.

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