Despite having lived in China for a year once before, I never seemed to notice the pollution as much as I do now. Justin says that he did, but that may be because this is meant to be a more beautiful city, so with my eyes more open, I more often notice the haze that appears a little too often. It hangs in the sky like a dirty mist.
Being near the ocean, we have many misty days here too, but those days bring some relief from the humidity, and they look sort of mysterious. The smoggy days are a sad reminder of how dirty China’s air is. It has not been something I even want to talk about, let alone blog about, because it makes me fear our decision to move to China. It is also rather a negative topic, so I have chosen to avoid it. However this week it has been on my mind non-stop, and well.. this is the place where we share what’s happening in our lives. Before moving here, we were told that Qingdao had some of the “cleanest” air in China, however we have now learnt that this has drastically changed over the last two years.
The saddest kind of “weather”
We regularly check the pollution levels on this website: Real-Time Air Quality Index (AQI), to see whether we should try to remain indoors, or whether going for walks is acceptable on any given day. The site is both addictive and disturbing! From our apartment, on the 24th floor, we can often not see further than a couple of blocks because of the grey smog enveloping the city. The AQ levels – which measure the fine particles that are especially dangerous – have been dangerously high this week. In fact they have been 10 TIMES higher than the level that is deemed safe.
The table above shows the possible levels of pollution, and the health implications of these levels on the population. As you can see, 300+ is HAZARDOUS and warrants a “health alert”. This week the levels pretty much remained way above 300, and I felt unbelievably sick when I was outside. I tried to keep my face covered, but I still found it hard to breath. On Wednesday morning, the pollution levels – at almost 500 – made my eyes sting and my lungs ache! In Beijing, and some other areas in the north, the levels have gone as high as 1,000, at which point the US embassy urged people to remain indoors with the windows shut.
Above are pictures of the Chinese city of Nanjing, the first on a clear day, and the second on a polluted day, when the city is smothered in smog. It has been reported that an eight-year old girl has become the youngest person in China to contract lung cancer, which doctors claim was caused by the country’s horrendous air pollution.
Government plans to cut the pollution levels by slowing the growth of coal consumption so that its share of China’s energy sources fell to 65% by 2017. Last month, the choking smog forced authorities to shut down one of the country’s largest cities. With a massive population of 10 million people, Harbin’s visibility was reduced to less than 10 meters. The above picture was taken during such period. The smog forced schools to suspend classes, causing serious traffic jams and an airport shut down. It was said to be the country’s first major air pollution crisis of the winter.
The cold weather typically brings the worst air pollution to northern China because of a combination of the weather conditions and an increase in the burning of coal for homes and municipal heating systems. China is the world’s biggest coal consumer and is forecast to account for more than half of the GLOBAL demand next year.
For those in China – and anyone else interested – have a look at the image below for more information on how this pollution is created, and how to protect yourself if you are concerned about the effects that it may have on your health. Those in the “sensitive group”, ie. children, elderly, pregnant women, and people with respiratory diseases, should be particularly cautious and try to stay indoors on days when the levels are too high.
Thankfully, today brought some relief but we were still in the “unhealthy for sensitive groups” zone. That would be the sick, children, old folks, and pregnant woman. We haven’t bought the heavy-duty masks yet, but we are looking at air purifiers for our home, so that at least we know we are safe when we are at home.
We are praying for more clear days.