It’s no secret that air pollution is a major problem in China. In fact, in recent years, the problem has gotten so bad that the Environmental Protection Agency, the environmental watchdog in the US, has had to revise its Air Quality Index system. Originally, the AQI had a top rating of 500, which indicates 500 micrograms per cubic meter of air. But due to escalating problems in air quality in major urban centers such as Beijing and Shanghai, that index has been increased to 1000.
To put that in perspective, an AQI of 500 is roughly 20 times what would be considered healthy for the average human being to breathe on a regular basis. At 1000 micrograms per cubic meter, Chinese citizens are being exposed to a whopping 40 times what would be considered healthy for urban inhabitants. And according to the Chinese government, these extreme variations in air quality cause between 656,000 and 750,000 deaths every year, beating smoking as the number one cause of respiratory disease in the country.
To make all this a bit more palatable to the masses, the government of Shanghai has decided to step up with a new campaign that employs cartoon mascots to indicate how unsafe the air is on any given day. As the bar above shows, the cartoon girl responds to air quality by either being green and smiley, red and sad, or outright maroon and crying.
But of course, one can’t help but notice that the index only goes to 500. One would have to imagine how an equivalent mascot would react to Beijing’s rating of 700 or more! In a city and a country where automobile emissions are the leading cause of air pollution, and urban populations are rising non stop, this index may have to be revised, or more strict air quality control measures will need to be considered.
For those interested, Shanghai’s air quality index on any given day can be consulted by going to the Shanghai Environmental Monitoring Center’s website. At the time of writing this article, the air quality is rated at a comparatively healthy 51 micrograms per cubic meter of air.
The site also provides predictions on how smog levels are expected to fluctuate throughout the day and even gives a breakdown of the pollutants, ranging from carbon monoxide (CO) to ozone (O3), sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) to particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10).
Presumably, pedestrians and those looking to brave the city air are encouraged to plan accordingly. These would likely include a breath mask, bottled air (which is now being sold), or possibly a gas mask, for those days when the simple act of breathing would be tantamount to witnessing a chemical weapons attack!
- China’s new premier vows to tackle pollution, but few details on how (chinadailymail.com)
- Chinese struggle through ‘airpocalypse’ smog (guardian.co.uk)
- What Does the Unbelievably Bad Air Quality in Beijing Do to the Human Body? (blogs.smithsonianmag.com)
- Tighter air quality rules mean fewer good air days (sanluisobispo.com)
- When Allergies Attack! (enlightenedlotuswellness.com)
- Chinese struggle in ‘airpocalypse’ (japantimes.co.jp)
- Smog could cut classes (ttrweekly.com)
- Beijing residents bemoan smog and sandstorms (aworldchaos.wordpress.com)
- Hong Kong to Raise Air Quality Standards and Cut Emissions – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)
- China’s air pollution 中國的空氣汙染 (slideshare.net)