madpen's journal

Death by Chinese Air

That's not fog...

That’s not fog…

As you may have read, air pollution in major Chinese cities now causes more deaths per year than car accidents. And no, driving skills have not improved.

Air pollution is one of the reasons I decided I couldn’t live in China. Forget exercise, forget enjoying to breathe, forget good smells, forget clear sunrises and sunsets, forget blue sky. I just couldn’t do it.

Common air pollutants include sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and particulate matter and have been linked to asthma, lung cancer, cardiovascular issues, respiratory diseases, birth defects, and premature death. Especially dangerous are PM2.5 particulates, which are smaller than 2.5 micrometers and can get absorbed directly into the body through the lungs.

Some of my friends, possibly stronger than I, stayed on and bought expensive air purifiers for their apartments and for their newborns and partners and pets. Some didn’t seem to care – a bliss I can never enjoy.

I met with my old boss from my first environmental job in China today. She and her husband are considering moving back to the US, partly because of the pollution. Her daughter’s high school soccer games get automatically cancelled when the PM2.5 concentration exceeds an AQI of 250 (corresponding to ~200 micrograms per cubic meter of air). She’s hardly played any games this year. Apparently some of the private schools are even considering installing clear domes over sports fields – a horrifying piece of dystopia that may become reality.

Students at several study abroad programs in Chinese cities are notified at the beginning of each day if they need to wear N95 masks that are supposed to filter 95% of particulate matter out of the air. Many schools have been installing air purifiers in their classrooms and academic buildings – it’s something that makes the school more attractive to prospective families.

Where’s all this pollution coming from? Well, a large amount comes from coal combustion (power plants (thermal), steel production (coking), cement production, petrochemical production). I’ll be talking more about coal pollution in China in my next blog post.

The latest air quality reading:

03-21-2013 21:00; PM2.5; 224.0; 274; Very Unhealthy (at 24-hour exposure at this level)

Everyone told us it was a 'good' day for air quality...

Everyone told us it was a ‘good’ day for air quality…


2 comments on “Death by Chinese Air

  1. kmetre
    March 21, 2013

    oh man, I made the mistake of biking around Beijing for a couple of days. The sad thing is that it actually would be a great city for biking–flat with wide streets and lots of bike lanes–if it weren’t for the horrendous pollution. I recently went diving with my friend who lives in Beijing and he joked about taking the scuba tanks back with him and starting an oxygen bar. Ha. Though now that I’m in Jakarta, it’s hard to believe that pollution can get even worse than this… good luck with the rest of your trip!

    • madpen
      March 24, 2013

      I think it’s even worse in Hangzhou! And talk about a great place for biking… very flat with beautiful lakes and canals. And the largest public bike-share in the world! At least this city has more greenery than Beijing. We’ll see what Dalian has to offer… it’s supposed to be one of the cleaner cities.

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