Shanghai’ers have long been able to claim cleaner air than their Beijing brethren, but not this week. Since Monday, the city has been overcome with a spate of high particulate pollution, rising to over 420 micrograms per cubic meter in Xuhui as I write. As levels above 35 micrograms/m3 (35ug/m3) are considered unhealthy based on the US EPA’s standard, we are currently at 12x the safe level. People are scrambling to buy air filters, we’ve had people queuing up at our office to buy anti-pollution masks, and everyone is worried.
Why suddenly this week? There are a variety of reasons and experts can only agree that it is a combination of low hanging fog (a layer of moist air traps the pollution in a sort of permeable atmospheric bubble), lack of wind blowing our smog to Japan and HK, and industrial pollution from increased coal production due to demand for electricity for heating. None of these can be controlled at our level. But don’t buy the next plane ticket home just yet.
Instead, let’s focus on what you can do. For those who regularly read our blog, you know the drill. Nothing has changed and the pollution drill should be put into effect. In order of priority, here are a few actions to take to protect yourself.
- Limit outdoor exposure. Close windows and doors when inside. Schools should be executing an air management plan that limits children’s activity outdoors. Classrooms should also be protected from unlimited ventilation.
- While indoors, run high efficiency particulate arrestor (HEPA) air filters that are appropriately sized for the room. Best practice is to run filters at maximum speed for about one hour, then you can turn them down to a medium. Low speed is not effective regardless of brand. Make sure the HEPA filters have been replaced according to manufacturer’s instructions. For Blueair and Alen air, this tends to be around 5 months. IQ Airs and Airgles have filter reminders that will tell you when to change. Don’t have a filter? Read more here about how to select the air filter that is right for you and then check out the models that we recommend and can offer here. Schools and workplaces should have filtration installed in the ventilation system or ceiling-mounted, which are far more effective than portable filters.
- Wear a genuine N95-rated mask when outside. There are many different masks now, all claiming great performance. However, a rating of N95 means that the mask has a particle filtration effectiveness of > 95% of particulates 0.3 microns.
The PureLiving China team did a test to measure the effectiveness of the different types of masks and the differences in the PM2.5 reduction between a Vogmask, a week-old mask, a N95 with a valve, a surgical mask, and a fashionable cotton mask. We found that not all masks were created equal.
Anti-pollution masks can be purchased now through our online store!
The Vogmasks have received our top marks due to performance, style, convenient over-the-ear straps (vs. over the head), and lifespan (washable and lasts ~400 hrs depending on pollution level). Popular health blogger Dr. Richard St. Cyr has also posted about masks and seems to prefer Vogmasks for children.
4. Use free mobile phone apps to know what the outdoor level of pollution is. Nowadays, there are a wealth of free options for real-time air quality reporting data available to China residents. Just pick the closest monitoring station. Don’t worry about whether it is a Chinese govt or a US Consulate’s — we aren’t conspiracy theorists and any differences are because of sampling method and location.
Internet: AQICN.ORG provides data for 10 parameters in Beijing and Shanghai. There is a graphical map function that allows you to select the closest monitoring station.
iPhone: iPhone users have bragging rights for the slickest interface with the “China Air Quality” app by FreshIdeas. This aggregates data across 120 Chinese cities and shows trends for 24 hrs to as much as a month
Android: We like “China Air Quality Index” by Bood Qian. This allows you to monitor as many as 8 different stations, both US and Chinese including BJ, SH, GZ, and Chengdu. Best of all, it shows data in both AQI and micrograms per m3.
Know what the numbers mean. Instead of looking at the AQI or API number, focus on the data in micrograms per m3 (ie. 70 µg/m3), or mass concentration. This is because while each country has its own system (AQI, API, etc), standards use mass concentration, so only this number is directly comparable. The magic number is 35 ug/m3. If you’re lower than this, the air is healthy.
Stay safe and if you have any questions, feel free to post here.
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