As we write this, the PM2.5 in Beijing reads 332, and in Dingzhou in the Hebei province, it is 456. While Shanghai has had blue skies of late, Shanghai citizens are also already wondering how much long the park and barbeque days will last.
Seasonally speaking, pollution is always worse in winter than in summer, and with the north having already got chilly, it looks like the start of the season we all fear the most...
Life goes on, and as the pall of winter pollution gloom descends over China, the best strategy is to know what to do, take a few precautions, ramp up the excitement quotient of your indoor plans for those grey weekends and look forward to the next clear day.
Here's PureLiving's advice on how to beat that Bad Air Day from getting the better of your health and your spirit.
- Stay informed. Monitor the air quality outside, which varies by day and time. Online, AQICN.ORG provides data for 10 parameters in Beijing and Shanghai. iPhone users have the slick 'China Air Quality' app by FreshIdeas which aggregates data across 120 Chinese cities, showing trends for 24 hours to a month. For Android, there is ‘China Air Quality Index’ by Bood Qian, monitoring 8 different stations, both US and Chinese. The US Consulate stations provide hourly updates.
- Don’t go by the AQI or API : while each country has its own system (AQI, API, etc), and these indices aggregate many pollutants, both national and international standards use only micrograms/m3 or mass concentration, so only this number can be accurately referenced. The PM2.5 ‘fine’ particles pose the greatest health risks, since because of their small size (approximately 1/30th the average width of a human hair), they can lodge deeply into the lungs. The magic number is 35 ug/m3 (the WHO standard is 25ug/m3, the EPA stipulates 35ug/m3. You could say that we are being more realistic.) - if the number is lower than this, the air is healthy. Read here to learn what all the numbers mean.
- Stay inside as much as you can as long as levels are high (i.e., in the ‘unhealthy’ range, >150, based on the US Embassy's Air Now 6-tier levels which all air quality websites and apps refer), or limit outdoor exposure to activities that don't increase breathing rate.
- Keep your windows closed as long as outdoor levels are high. Advise your co-workers to do this at work as well.
- Ventilate 2-3 times a day when the outdoor particulate level is good.
- Turn on your air purifiers. 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.
- Remove your shoes at the door. Studies indicate 70% higher particulate levels in homes where outdoor shoes are worn inside.
- Vacuum frequently with a HEPA-filter equipped vacuum and wet wiping or mopping. This will capture and remove settled particulates, which will increase during this time. Vacuuming with a bad vacuum will just suck it in and then spray it out the back.
- Let your friends, office and school administrators know – we can’t control what’s outside, but we can control our indoor environment.
- If you spend most of your day in a commercial building, the most effective solution is an HVAC (Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning) Fresh Air Filtration System built into the existing HVAC system. Contact us for more on this.
- When you need to go out, wear an N-99 or N-95 rated mask which filters out 95-99% of all particulates down to 0.3 microns in size. Here is a very useful performance comparison carried out by PureLiving between the various anti-pollution masks available.
It’s not all bad – spread the word in your workplace so that you can take similar precautions there, talk to your children's school to make sure they have a clear pollution strategy and good Indoor Air Quality practices. PureLiving has recently been working extensively with international schools and the community is definitely sitting up, taking notice and implementing plans and policies for improving their indoor environments.
At home, pick up that book you abandoned half-way or get to that pile of DVDs you’ve been meaning to watch, bake cookies with the kids, plan fun indoor activities, cook a celebratory meal. It’s just a bad air day, not a bad day!
PureLiving is here to help - whether you need advice, or want to get your office/school/home tested or need to stock up on those Vogmasks before stocks run out!