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Breathing hazardous air

I had mild problems breathing last night here in north-west Beijing – I am a once-a-year asthmatic. This morning I sought to check out air pollution conditions in Beijing. A website from the US embassy describes conditions today (Sunday) as hazardous to the entire population although it is difficult to interpret this information. More information that suggests pollution levels are at very high levels is here.

The last few days there has been an unusually heavy fog around Beijing. I’ve been asking people whether it is mainly natural (in origin I think it is!) or represents pollution (also true as the fog ‘traps’ pollution particles) – the photograph in the link gives an accurate picture of the current adverse conditions. This sort of fog occurs from time-to-time across northern China and of course makes its appearance in even ancient Chinese paintings so there is some natural basis.  But an important contributor to Beijing’s pollution is the 4.5 million vehicles driving around this vast city as well as the pollution emissions from surrounding industrial cities such as Tianjin which gets captured by the fog.

The pollution around Beijing varies by district – Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau, Friday’s Air Quality Index (AQI) ratings varied from 132 (“slightly polluted”) in Daxing district to 327 (“heavily polluted”) in Shijingshan district.  Overall the pollution in Beijing over the past few days seems to equal worst of any city in China. The American Embassy site apparently rated Friday’s air as “very unhealthy” with an average AQI of 273. It iks forecast to ease off tonight because rain is expected which apparently disperses it. Indeed severe pollution in Beijing is sometimes tackled by ‘seeding’ clouds to induce rain.

The 2008 Environmental Protection Report provides a survey of environmental conditions in China including air quality. I am chewing through this on a number of fronts and futher posts will follow.

Update: The smog cleared today and it is a bright, clear sunny day. A warning about the dangers appeared today in the English language media but the horse had bolted. I’ll watch the warning websites from now on.

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