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Pollution Threat in Asia

Pollution in parts of Asia is altering weather patterns, blotting out the sun and getting into the lungs of millions according to a report released Thursday by the United Nations, the New York Times reports.

Soot, smog and toxic chemicals are the byproduct of automobiles, slash-and-burn agriculture, cooking on dung and wood fires, and coal fired power plants.

Atmospheric brown clouds in Asia are dramatically reducing sunlight in China and leading to decreased crop yields in India. The problem has been studied since 2002.

The brown haze is sometimes more than a mile thick and stretches from the Arabian Peninsula to the Yellow Sea. In the spring it hits North and South Korea and Japan, sometimes even drifting towards California.

The U.N. report identified 13 cities as brown-cloud hot spots, including Bangkok, Cairo, New Delhi, Tehran and Seoul, South Korea.

According to the report, smog blocks from 10 percent to 25 percent of the sunlight that should be reaching city streets. Scientists working on the report believe that the blanket of haze might be temporarily offsetting some warming from the simultaneous buildup of greenhouse gases by reflecting solar energy away from the earth.