There were a few things I loved about China, mainly the food (DUMPLINGS!!!!) and the gardens, but pollution isn’t one of them.
This is a blog post from my journal blog last year:
Today was another high pollution day!
Since yesterday was Earth Day, and today just happens to be an average day of bad air pollution in Beijing (it is at least this bad at least twice a week), I thought I would write a bit more about the bad air in Beijing with some research to back it up (yes, I know that reading articles and writing a blog like this for three hours for fun is really nerdy).
You could still see things in front of you but not a block in front of you. The students were not allowed outside today. It is this type of weather that makes my face break out, my throat sore, and my eyes burn. You think that we would be fine since we were inside for most of the day, but you forget that in China the teachers and cleaning staff like to open the windows and doors to “let in the fresh air” so you can see the smog in classrooms and in the hallways. I guess it is a cultural difference that in the US we would call for air filtration systems in the schools and we would seal off all entrances. Today is a perfect example of how I am not medically or culturally suited to be working in China (maybe in a school with filtered air and in a less polluted city like Shanghai which is on the coast and is usually 100ppm less than Beijing).
Why is Beijing so polluted?
According to Greenpeace, the main culprit for the high air pollution levels in China are the coal fired power plants. Some of the other culprits are caused by “caused by dust or emissions from vehicles, coal combustion, factories and construction sites….” Due to the fact that coal provides more than 80% of China’s power, the air will not improve without moving to a new power source in China.
What is considered high pollution?
Coming from Portland, Oregon (where the highest PM2.5 reading was only 52 in the past 30 days according to the DEQ, I would never have come here if I had realized how bad the air would affect me on an average day like this with the AQI at 327 PM2.5 – let alone on one of the many days when it reaches above 500 and can no longer be measured.
According to MSNBC in this article, “The [Beijing] government says that nearly 80 percent of the days in the last two years met at least the Chinese standard and therefore had good or even excellent air quality,” Steve Andrews, an environmental consultant who has analyzed the @BeijingAir data, said. “While when we look at the U.S. Embassy data … over 80 percent days exceeded what would be considered healthy air quality and more days were hazardous than good.”
Growing up I had always heard how the pollution in Los Angeles was the worst in the country and as a result I was never interested in living there. Well according to this nice graph on the Economist, the AQI in Beijing is more than three times that of Los Angeles! Unlike Beijing airports, I’ve never read articles about LA closing its airport because of pollution levels.
What are the health risks?
According to the New York Times, “The World Bank placed deaths related to outdoor pollution at 350,000 to 400,000, but excised those figures from a 2007 report under government pressure.”
The EPA says, “Health studies have shown a significant association between exposure to fine particles and premature death from heart or lung disease. Fine particles can aggravate heart and lung diseases and have been linked to effects such as: cardiovascular symptoms; cardiac arrhythmias; heart attacks; respiratory symptoms; asthma attacks; and bronchitis. These effects can result in increased hospital admissions, emergency room visits, absences from school or work, and restricted activity days. Individuals that may be particularly sensitive to fine particle exposure include people with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children.”
Personally I blame the air pollution for my nearly chronic headache (so happy I brought Costco sized bottles of extra strength Tylenol!), frequent coughing, sore throat, frequent break outs (my skin is the worst it has been in my life), and burning eyes when I am outside for more than a couple of minutes.
As a result of the air pollution causing so many health problems MIT has concluded that, “We estimate that ozone and PM concentrations beyond background levels have led to US$16 billion to US$69 billion (or 7% to 23%) loss of consumption and US$22 billion to US$112 billion (or 5% to 14%) loss of welfare in China’s economy.”
How can we help solve the problem?
Become aware of the danger of high pollution. If you have an apple device you can get this app: which has both the US embassy’s (known for being more accurate) readings as well as the communist government readings. The US Embassy in Beijing also has a twitter feed here if you don’t have an iPhone (which I hope to get next week, btw).
If it is a high pollution day try your best to limit your time outside and certainly don’t add to the air pollution by driving more than you absolutely have to (hence me staying home instead of eating out with friends tonight). When you go outside, wear a N95 face mask. You can wear sunglasses or goggles which seem to help during my bike ride home (but this could all be in my head). At home you should use an air purifier, and according to Wikipedia, have about 15 green leafy plants like a spider plant spread throughout your apartment.
In fact, the Beijing municipal government says that they will start creating more rooftop and building façade gardens to help improve air quality. Garden rooftops also help keep apartments cooler which would be an added benefit for the blistering summer heat in Beijing.
According to this article written last month, China will endeavor to clear the air, “…by 15 percent in the capital, Beijing, by 2015, and 30 percent by 2020 through phasing out old cars, relocating factories and planting new forests.
Of course all of us could remember to the “reduce, reuse, recycle” song and consume less electricity…and consume less PERIOD.