Monday, October 11, 2010

Ugh, Beijing

If my last two postings made you want to move to Beijing, let me be sure to tell you, or rather show you, the other side of living here. Yesterday (Sunday), Simon's soccer practice got cancelled because of the pollution. The pictures in this post were taken on Friday and Saturday, and Sunday was pretty much as bad. A heavy grey cloud of smog just enveloped the city (including our suburban area), making it undesirable, if not unhealthy, to go outside.

I didn't need any air quality meter to tell me the pollution was bad-- you could just see, smell and (I might be imagining...) taste it, but this is what the air quality index for Beijing said yesterday around the time that Simon was to play soccer:

10-10-2010; 11:00; PM2.5; 408.0; 439; Hazardous // Ozone; no data
about 24 hours ago via BeijingAir AQI Tweet

Translated, this means that on Sunday morning 10 October at 11am, the concentration of fine particular matter (PM2.5, which are the tiniest particles, smaller than 2.5 micrometer across, thus smaller than a human hair and beyond what you can see with the naked eye) was 408.0 ug/m3 (micrograms per cubic meter air), which translated into an Air Quality Index of 439. (And for Ozone there was no data).

Well, an Air Quality Index of 439 is pretty much off the charts if you look at this EPA overview of the Index:

Source: Air Quality Index (AQI): A Guide to Air Quality and Your Health.

All Friday and throughout the weekend we were in the "Hazardous" category.

Because I am -- considering my environmental degree -- supposed to know these things and I am still having to look them up, I'll share with you some details I learned on these finer than fine specks that were hovering outside my house. (If you are not interested, just think I did this for my own enlightenment. It's amazing though how much more relevant these details are when you are actually having to breathe in this filthy air.)

In a nutshell, these extremely small particles in the air are a mixture of tiny solids and liquid droplets, all of different sizes and origin. They are (in part) created when fuel, like coal, oil, diesel, or wood, are burned, for example in a power plant or when we are driving a car. If they are not trapped in a filter at the time that they are created, the particles get up in the air, where -- if there are a lot of them and wind and rain do not move them out, they simply sit and form a dusty blanket.

Now, the Air Index above focuses on the PM2.5 particles, the particles smaller than 2.5 micrometer across. This is because the smaller the particles are, the larger their effect on your health, as it is these tiny particles that make it past your nose and throat, all the way into your lungs. (The larger particles, larger than 10 micrometer across, just irritate your nose, throat and eyes, which is annoying, but not nearly as bad as getting a lung disease.)

The particulate pollution is worst for anyone who already has some kind of lung disease, like asthma or bronchitis. Even if you are healthy though, it can in the long run affect your health. The particles also affect the development of children's lungs, which is exactly why Simon was not running outside chasing a ball yesterday morning.

(If you're fascinated by particulate matter now, you can continue reading on this U.S. EPA website. Dutchies may want to check out this page on fijnstof.)

Luckily for us, there was a heavy rain last night, so today the sky is blue (as the particles are out of the sky and now moving on to ground and surface water). The air quality index reads:

10-11-2010; 11:00; PM2.5; 5.0; 16; Good // Ozone; no data
3 minutes ago via BeijingAir AQI Tweet

In any case, if you are interested in all of China -- the good, bad, the ugly, the sunny and the "cloudy" days, you are still very welcome to stay in our house. Life continues to surprise and interest me here, even if it is not "Cuandixia" every day.

1 comment:

  1. I wonder if, in 5 years, centralized government decrees will result in some industries moving and cleaner air in the capital. seems like you can do amazing things when you are ambitious and non-democratic.