Tue Aug 3rd, 2010 at 09:57:40 AM EST
I moved to Beijing this May, and this summer has been a descent into hell, in terms of temperature, humidity, and, as it turns out, air pollution.
The past few days have been god-awful bad. Walk five minutes to the bus stop and you're drenched in your own sweat.
But what has been perhaps more disturbing is the thick, jet gray color of the sky/air/smog. Ironically, I remember being surprised to see the full moon on Sunday night, a rare sight indeed in urban China. But that was temporary respite.
front-paged by afew
Today, I checked out the U.S. Embassy's website that posts the Air Quality Index (as calculated according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) for Beijing from atop the embassy roof.
Before I tell you what today's AQI for Beijing is, have a look at this table:
Now look at what the AQI for California was as of yesterday, 2010 July 30 around 18:00:
You'll see on the following city by city breakdown that the highest AQI in California was about 145~150 (in Fresno).
I remembered that when the AQI gets into the high 100's and into the 200's, I should start worrying.
But even with the nastiness we've been having the past few days, I did not imagine that Beijing's AQI this morning would hit... 356 - Dangerous!
Or as the EPA AirNow website explains for the 300~500 range (the highest one they have):
Health warnings of emergency conditions. The entire population is more likely to be affected.*
*i.e. not just "members of sensitive groups"
Actually, as I wrote this diary, it started to drizzle outside, and paradoxically the gray has started to dissipate to let in some sunlight. It seems that rain washes away the grub from the air.
And indeed, when my flatmate checked the AQI for Beijing again, we saw that it had gone from 356 at 10:00 AM this morning, to 232 at 11:00 AM.
So now we are only 100+ points higher than the worst place in California, instead of 200+ points higher, putting us at Unhealthy:
Everyone may begin to experience health effects; members of sensitive groups may experience more serious health effects.
In fact, I believe the most dangerous components of the pollution measured by the AQI in Beijing -- which is calculated based on five major air pollutants regulated by the Clean Air Act: ground-level ozone, particle pollution (also known as particulate matter), carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide -- are invisible.
In particular, Fine particles (PM2.5):
Particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter are called "fine" particles. These particles are so small they can be detected only with an electron microscope. Sources of fine particles include all types of combustion, including motor vehicles, power plants, residential wood burning, forest fires, agricultural burning, and some industrial processes.
I was planning to take some photos of all this ungodly airborne nastiness and add them to this diary later. But if the rain keeps up, we may actually have some clear(er) skies today.
In the mean time, you can get an idea for what it looks like with this 2008 July photo from Brian Micklethwait's blog --
-- which is not far from where I live, and this photo taken by James Fallows in 2009 January:
Actually, the air does not look nearly as bad as it does in these photos most of the time. But in the last few days, I bet I could have taken a few shots that came close if not matched these two. And even on gorgeous cloudless, smogless days -- rare though they be -- you gotta wonder about those PM2.5 particles and other invisible lovelies.
Did the air in European cities during the Industrial Revolution get as bad as this?