Airpocalypse

On Monday evening, the Chinese government has released the latest report on China’s air quality. The results are glum with 90% of Chinese bigger cities not meeting the Chinese (!) air quality standards.

With most of the population and industry in the east and south of China, it is clear that these areas are most affected by man-made pollution.

air pollution asia

Hebei, the province surrounding the nation’s capital is one of the most polluted areas in China. Seven out of the top 10 most polluted cities in the report are located in the Hebei with Baoding ranking number one.

The “war on pollution” that has been declared by the government in spring 2014 has had little effect so far. Average concentration of PM2.5 particles (thats the small and hazardous ones) for the area of Beijing-Hebei-Tianjin is around 93 micrograms per cubic metre – almost triple the ‘state standard’.

Looking out of the window and following the daily readings it is hard to believe that it is only 93. At the time of writing the air outside is at 478 and the recent high was yesterday with over 500. 500 is where the Chinese scale ends. However, the particles do not seem to stop there. It was 600+ PM 2.5 and 880 PM10 (thats the bigger and more visible particles that create haze) in the last couple of days. In December 2014 PM10 particles have reached as high as 1200 even in Baoding. (Click here for details about the air quality scale.)

To put these numbers into perspective, let me check some values for comparison.

Tauberbischofsheim (my home town) 10
Munich 12
Hamburg 17

Baoding 478
Beijing 72
Shanghai 151

Click here to find out air quality at your location.

These are current readings and not entirely representative though. Shanghai is usually cleaner than Beijing.

Baoding AQI map

Although the map is not visible, you can guess the shape of China in this picture. For your reference, I marked Baoding on it. Most of the producing industry is in China’s east. Hebei is one of the most ‘productive’ provinces resulting in a bit more pollution than the average.

According to recent news, the major factors for this pollution are coal mines and the burning of coal, as well as the cement factories that fuel China’s booming building industry.

The particles of different size (called PM2.5 or PM10 in short for particulate) itself are quite bad already. However, these small airborne comets (that’s the image I have in mind) are dry, as everything around here. They are porous and can be soaked by whatever chemicals are emitted around here. When these PM2.5 transports loaded with such chemicals make their way into the inner areas of our lungs, one can imagine why it is estimated that approximately one million people die of smog in China per year.

Faced with such evil, one has to defend as good as possible. Wearing masks outside is strange at first, but one gets used to it quickly. But clearly there must be more to be done against it, no?

Yes. Last weekend I spent all Sunday morning taping my windows. The windows in my apartment are not air tight. You can actually see the dust on the window frame where a draft of air won the fight against the window seal trying to keep it out of my apartment. My solution is not too pretty, but rather effective. I use transparent tape over the window and the frame to make sure it’s airtight.

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Besides ‘upgrading’ my windows in such a way, there is even more potential to improve indoor air quality. The exhaust hood above the stove in the kitchen has a duct to the outside. I used a plastic bag to close the intake and make it airtight. Of course, when I cook at home, I have to remove the bag, but since that is only 2 screws, I think it’s worth the added quality. Next: the air condition. Every A/C unit has a hose to the outside. Unfortunately the holes in the wall where these hoses go through are significantly larger than necessary. In order to make them airtight too, I stuffed tissues around the hose.

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Okay, now my apartment is relatively airtight. What now? Have the air purifier run 24/7.

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My home is my castle against the airpocalypse outside.

But let’s try to make it better outside! The Chinese government has declared war against pollution last spring. From a very greedy profit focused mentality to a “new Normality”. Sounds like a great idea – let’s hope they put their money where the filters should be.

Although 90% of Chinese cities failed to meet air quality standards, this is still an improvement over last year’s numbers. Today, Air Quality readings are everywhere, while in 2008 when I was living in Beijing the US embassy had the only sensors that were published publicly. There is change – although it is not happening at a fast pace.

And while it might be tempting to think “ah, the Chinese..” from a European or American perspective, we should be careful with such thoughts. Some might say our development wasn’t much different, and we should certainly be aware of our own contributions by our choice as a customer. Let’s be more aware of what we buy and create more awareness for our environment to avoid the airpocalypse.

 

here’s for further reading:

China Daily: China names 10 most polluted cities
FAZ: Baoding – Die dreckigste Stadt Chinas. (German)

 

6 Comments

  1. Martin

    Thanks for the (rather bleak…) update! We are leaving for Beijing tomorrow. But we’ll only stay there four days, then it’s off to the Yunnan province where the air should be much cleaner.
    Any chance you’re in Beijing the next days?
    Take care
    Martin


    1. if you buy masks (which you should!) get the ones labelled FFP3

  2. Schorsch

    You haven’t told us the end of the water story… has it ever got fixed?


    1. the water story ended with a surprisingly dry kitchen after 2 days. I do wonder though, if the fact that my kitchen door doesn’t close properly any more now has anything to do with the water incident.


    1. wow – thanks for the background info!
      – the pictures look very familiar

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