My colleagues and I were leaving the subway after having consumed a delicious meal of Chinese New Year dumplings near Sanlitun. As we left the subway, we began to wonder if the haze before us was from the rampant humidity, or the infamous Beijing smog. One of my colleagues has a convenient app on his phone that allows the user to compare the air quality index (AQI) provided by the US Embassy and the Chinese government. Our lungs and heart would be sad to learn that the haze before us was likely composed of more smog than humidity, as the AQI was at about 225 according to the US Embassy (the two measurements are rather different, with the Chinese levels conveniently lower than the US readings). For the unaware, and AQI reading of 225 warrants the following caution:
Healthy people will be noticeably affected. People with breathing or heart problems will experience reduced endurance in activities. These individuals and elders should remain indoors and restrict activities.
Totally sorry about that, lungs. You know I love you, right?
Now, I’m sure everyone is aware of the fact that Beijing is notorious for its smoggy weather, and I’m sure many of you have seen this article (or one covering the same topic). However, I was curious to do my own exploration of the topic to see if I could produce similar results. While the AQI levels in January, 2013 were off the charts (some reports said the measure was as high as 750), surely there would be some disparity between air on a good day and on a not-so-good day. Below is what I found 2 weeks ago when a rainstorm brought down most of the pollutants.
Notice how you can actually see the mountains in the distance! How novel! AQI readings that hour were at 80, which on the AQI scale translates to:
Few hypersensitive individuals should reduce outdoor exercise.
Not bad, right?
As time wore on and the pollutants began to re-accumulate, I decided to snap another photo three days later with the following results:
As you can see, not as good as the days before! The AQI reading this day was at 190, which means:
Slight irritations may occur, individuals with breathing or heart problems should reduce outdoor exercise
Perhaps I was unable to capture the exact disparity between air quality in Beijing, but it was worth a shot, right? Regardless, this is a terribly serious issue with widespread implications. Studies have recently shown that people in Northern China have shorter lifespans than those in the South due to the excessive pollution. Time will only tell if conditions improve in China over the coming decades as the country continues to urbanize at a staggering rate.
For now, I’m sporting the newest, chicest fashions from Beijing: a breathing mask.