This weekend, I wrote about the jaw-dropping levels of air pollution in Beijing nearly 30x the international healthy level: Beijing Air Quality is Officially Beyond “Crazy Bad” — why and what can you do?
The next day, I flew out to Beijing itself to see for myself what was going on. Getting on the plane, the flight attendant handed me a copy of the China Daily. ”Record high pollution sparks near panic in Capital City” the headlines screamed. Getting off the plane, the first thing I saw was a haze hanging over the airport.
Immediately in the terminal, I saw something I’d rarely seen since the SARS outbreak over a decade ago — crowds of Chinese wearing masks. Indoors.
I took care of some business, and then caught up with a few local friends. The air pollution was by far the topic de jour. Where to get filters, the trustworthiness of buying anti-pollution masks, and why the PM levels were so high were the most common questions.
Ironically, the PM2.5 levels in Beijing have fallen since its highs over the weekend and been surpassed by Shanghai’s! As of right now, the PM2.5 level at the monitoring station near the Agricultural Museum on East Third Ring Road stands at 177 ug/m3 (a “mere” 5x the US EPA standard), which Shanghai (Huaihai Lu) has climbed today to 236 ug/m3 (7x the standard).
The good thing that has come out of this week’s events is a greater awareness of air pollution, and how vulnerable it can make us feel. I hope that along with this comes a sense of responsibility of how we can do our part to reduce the emissions load on the city and how we can protect ourselves.