Beijing is “Crazy Bad” again

Air quality, high particulates in Beijing China

Haze in Beijing - Credit: Diego Azubel (EPA)

Be glad you don’t live in Beijing … and wear a mask if you go visit!  Last November, Beijing had air particulate levels so high that the US Embassy created an international stir when some staffer labeled  the levels as “Crazy Bad” (the level was above the highest level on the 5 category system).  This was due in part by the increase in coal-burning as temperatures dropped and heating across the city increased and also by hay burning by farmers.

Over the past week, echoes of Crazy Bad (changed hours later after the incident to the more politically correct “Above measurable levels”) returned with particulate levels once again moving above 600 micrograms per cubic meter (50 is the 24-hr safety limit set by the WHO).

Shanghai has been having a bad week too — my guess is that the last burst of CNY fireworks had something to do with a spike to 300 ug/m3.  However, if you compare it to Beijing’s (see below), levels were about half of our northern neighbors.  Those Beijingers do like their fireworks…

Beijing, China air quality PM10

Beijing air quality (PM10). Source: AMFIC

Shanghai, China air quality PM10

Shanghai air quality (PM10). Source: AMFIC

This varies — looking at the historicals, there are weeks where Shanghai is as bad or higher than Beijing.

Takeaways:

* Check the forecast before ventilating your home at this great Chinese environmental monitoring site (levels vary significantly during the day, usually worst in morning rush hour) and open your windows and doors for about 20 min twice a day to flush out the buildup of unhealthy emissions indoors .  This is very important for indoor air quality.  Also use the forecasts to plan your outdoor time.

* Limit your time and activities outdoors on bad days (where the API is >100).  If you are prone to asthma, respiratory problems, or have a lowered immune system, consider lowering this to 50 (which is approximately the WHO’s standard as well).

* Pregnant women should be especially careful.  It has been well documented that  higher exposures to fine particulates are correlated with lower birthweight and birth size, particularly among male infants (this part hasn’t been explained).

* If you have to be out, wear a personal mask filter. There are lots of options out there — 3M N95-rated ones are the most effective if  you get the fit right.  Then there are ones by companies like Totobobo, Respro, and I Can Breathe.  Avoid the ubiquitous “ayi” cotton mask, which has been shown in studies to be ineffective at removing particles.

* Filter your air indoors, whether by using filters in your air conditioning system or with standalone air purifiers, will help significantly since we spend upwards of 80% of our time indoors.  Read my earlier post on how to choose an air filter to clean your air and help create a healthy home.

Beijing readers or recent visitors — how are things from your standpoint?  What have you done about it?

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