This should have been blog topic #1

IMG_0134(my dad wants to write this one….)

When we told friends and family that we were considering moving to Beijing, about 95% of everyone’s first comment was something negative about the air quality:

“What about the air quality?”

“Doesn’t Beijing have the worst air pollution in the world?”

“What will you do about the bad air?”

I can’t blame them, yes Beijing air quality is bad at time. Really, really bad at some other times.

You don’t have to look far of headlines that send  a chill down your spine and forces the words, “do I really want to live in this?”This was a expat online magazine headline the day after Xmas 2015, less than a month from our relocation to Beijing:

Congratulations Beijing, you’ve hit a new high (or should we say low)

The average AQI (air quality index) concentration on Christmas Day yesterday was 485, the highest 24-hour daily average ever recorded since the Ministry of Environmental Protection began publicly releasing daily averages on its website two years ago.

(borrowing from The AQI is a scale devised by the US-based Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It is based on a standard for air quality set by the EPA, which considers an average amount of PM2.5 particles of 35 microgrammes per cubic meter to be the maximum acceptable exposure over a 24 hour period. This figure corresponds to an AQI on their scale of 100. The first point to notice is that this refers to an average, so a brief exposure to levels above 100 is not necessarily a cause for alarm if our overall exposure averages lower than this. Nevertheless 100 is a useful number to keep in mind: anything above this score is worth paying closer attention to.

The AQI scale was devised with US cities in mind, which mainly have their air pollution well under control. On a typical day most busy cities in the US score 50 or below, and the AQI scale is designed to be most sensitive to differences in pollution levels in the 0-100 range. Here are the ranges, their health descriptions and corresponding PM2.5 dust levels:

AQI PM2.5 dust level (microgrammes per m3) Short description Health advice
0-50 0-15.4 Good None.
51-100 15.5-35.4 Moderate Unusually sensitive people should consider reducing prolonged or heavy exertion.
101-150 35.5-65.4 Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups People with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should reduce prolonged or heavy exertion.
151-200 65.5-150.4 Unhealthy People with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion. Everyone else should reduce prolonged or heavy exertion.
201-300 150.5-250.4 Very Unhealthy Alert People with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should avoid all physical activity outdoors. Everyone else should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion.
301-500 250.5-500.4 (ditto above) (ditto above)

When we landed in Beijing one of the first questions we asked new neighbors was of course about the air: “Is the air as bad as we’ve heard?” “How do you deal with the bad air?” etc, etc. We soon learned the key was to manage exposure when the AQI is above 150. We three monitor the air each morning and if its above 150, it’s a “mask day.”

The URL on the left is the webpage we use every day to track the AQI. There are air monitors on roof tops all over the city so you can see how the numbers vary by location.The three screen shots from my iPhone show a few of the highest readings. Fortunately, I don’t think we’ve ever seen a 400.

Actually, the air quality and the number of ‘mask days’ are lower than we expected. The Chinese government reported that from 1 January-1 June, the air quality improved by 25%. Guess our expectations were a bit unrealistic.

Back to managing the poor air… We bought good quality masks (see top picture) and even a bit stylish. Will is good about wearing his mask on the school bus, when we or the bus Ayi tell the kids. And once at school, they have invested significant Yuan (RMB) to make the air at school safe. Therefore, for Will, on bad air days, he has limited exposure to it.



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