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Sino Smog Survivial: Tips On Surviving Pollution in Beijing

This week Alex looks at the pollution in Beijing and offers tips on how to get through heavily polluted days in the city.

 Pollution in Beijing

Four years on from the 2008 Olympics and Beijing is again being featured in news reports across the world. The breaking story this time, however, is somewhat more dire - frequent, record-topping levels of air pollution. The People’s Republic of China has urged residents to stay indoors due to pollution, avid photographers and concerned citizens alike have set to documenting Beijing’s smoggy state, and concerns continue to rise with reports of air pollutant levels measuring in at forty times what the World Health Organisation deems safe.

Staying at home may be well and good if you want to avoid the smog and have absolutely no place you need to go, but luckily,  there are some proactive steps that you can take to keep as healthy as possible while venturing out into the highest levels of pollution ever recorded.

Face Masks

A newcomer to Beijing may be surprised to notice the huge amount of passersby sporting surgical, homemade, or even industrial strength face masks. The mask has been a staple in China and Hong Kong since the SARS epidemic in 2002, and ten years on photographs of local residents wearing the protective masks are once again symbols of a unified concern.

The good thing is that the masks do in fact help to limit pollution levels in your lungs, and more sophisticated models have been designed to combat the specific pollutants usually found near roadsides. Reputable companies such as Vogmask and Respro are now offering masks installed with charcoal filters, which effectively decrease the concentration of chemicals that make it inside your body from breathing the polluted air. As useful as the face mask may appear and feel, they are a foolproof solution to keeping out pollution -  it is still important to get home or indoors as soon as possible.

Air Filter Systems

With a nation worrying about the air they are breathing, devices that purify and increase air quality at home are becoming increasingly popular. Mechanised air filter systems are a great way to ensure your house is clean from the majority of outside pollutants. Choosing the right filter system will largely depend on the size of the room you want purified, but keep a few things in mind when considering the purchase: Assess the price of the actual machine as well as the costs for each replacement filter, check how noisy it is, check the reputation of the make and model, and consider the resale value.

Looking for a reputable brand ensures quality and can set you back anywhere between 1000 RMB to 3500+ RMB per unit. Or, “Do-It-Yourself” types can have a go at building one cheaply all on their own.

Indoor Plants

Thirty years ago NASA carried out research over a two year period to determine how effective house plants were at reducing levels of air pollutants in confined spaces. The agency scrutinised several biological processes to measure how they could contribute to solving environmental problems in outer space, as well as on earth. The findings supported the initial idea that indoor living plants are efficient at absorbing contaminants in the air.

Minimising health risks from poor air condition by arranging houseplants is a great way forward for households in Beijing. Relatively inexpensive and somewhat more visually pleasing than an air purifying box, NASA suggests that fifteen to eighteen houseplants can effectively improve the air quality of an average 1,800 square foot house. So stock up on your Chamaedorea sefritzii, Ficus benjamina, and Hedera helix (Bamboo Palm, Weeping Fig and English Ivy, for those not up to scratch with their Latin).

Indoor activities

Exercising will still be important, especially when attempting to stay healthy, so get your gym bag out from wherever you’ve hidden it and sign up for a few fitness classes. Joining and frequenting a gym will keep you away from the pollution during a daily workout, and if you feel like splashing out, head to a nice hotel gym for a session in style. Outdoor running enthusiasts may have to convert to treadmills for the time being.

For those with young children, be prepared to spend a lot of time inside playing with your kids, and generally passing the time indoors until the smog relents. When trying to limit outdoor activities for your children, make sure to plan indoor projects that keep them busy while allowing you to stay involved; this can include anything from games, to art, to reading.    

Monitor Air Quality

There are several real-time air pollution tracking sites that you can regularly check to stay informed on the day’s air quality. Have a look at Twitter @BeijingAir to keep updated on pollutant particle measurements in real-time, or download a mobile application that serves a similar purpose. The key here is to stay informed and up to date on the surrounding situation so you can make the best decisions on when it is safest for you and your family to go outside again.

Environmental Campaigns & Community Action

As essential as all the above steps are to maintaining your health and keeping your home safe, there are still things that everyone from locals to visitors can do to help reduce the pollution in China. www.pollution-china.com is a website dedicated to gathering new ideas and methods to help improve air quality in China, and Greenpeace recommends several ways for individuals to help make a change. These range from small, simple steps such as taking the subway more often and saving electricity, to organising “quit coal” campaigns and displaying anti-pollution banners outside of coal power plants in Beijing.

Pan Shiyi, a real estate mogul turned part time pollution activist, has pushed for a new clean air law. He called on the online community to help support the implementation of new standards and within ten hours received 32,000 votes in favour of a new law to solve China’s air problem. The voting process may have only been conducted through something as simple as social media, but it is a clear indication that China is ready for a breath of fresh air.