Friday, July 3, 2009

Wondering What's in the Air

In a recent report from Xinhua, there were 146 blue-sky days in Beijing in the first six months of the year, the best air quality in nine years.
"Air quality in the capital has improved steadily over the past six months," said Du Shaozhong, deputy director-general of the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau.
In the first six months of last year, only 123 blue-sky days were reported.
However, how a blue-sky day is determined is not quite clear and now the city has a competitor that is bringing not so optimistic readings.
The US Embassy quietly began giving its own air quality readings every hour on that are either meant to shock your lungs or is a realistic picture of the city's air.
For instance, at 2pm today (July 3), the reading is 0.135, 192 (unhealthy) and today's average is 0.090, 168 (unhealthy).
Beijing prefers measuring particles less than 10 micrometres in diameter (PM 10) which are things we can practically see with the naked eye. Its readings also include statistics on sulphur dioxide and carbon dioxide.
But the US Embassy's readings are more focused on PM 2.5 or particles less than 2.5 micrometres that can go into people's lungs and blood stream, causing things like cancer and asthma.
Granted the embassy is located in the downtown area, still, many people live and work in that area.
Meanwhile last year Beijing started manipulating its readings ahead of the 2008 Olympics by taking readings from stations outside the city core so it looked like air quality was good, but in fact now we find that it was not.
According to new research in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, particulate pollution levels on an average day in Beijing last year were between two to four times higher than that of Los Angeles.
Researcher Staci Simonich, an Oregon State associate professor of environmental and molecular toxicology says pollution levels in the Chinese capital in 2008 were 30 percent higher than reported by Chinese environmental experts. Needless to say these levels were considered excessive by World Health Organization standards.
"The athletes and visitors were only exposed for a very short time," Simonich said. "Millions of other people there face this air quality problem their entire lives. It was unlike anything I've ever seen -- you could look directly at the sun and not have a problem, due to the thickness of the haze."
Having lived here for over two years, I hope the air quality doesn't have too drastic an effect on my health...

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