Beijing air pollution

Beijing’s air pollution hits hazardous levels

AP, November 28, 2015

BEIJING–Air pollution in Beijing reached hazardous levels on Saturday as smog engulfed large parts of China despite efforts to clean up the foul air.

At noon, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing reported the level of the poisonous, tiny articles of PM2.5 at 391 micrograms per cubic meter. The World Health Organization considers the safe level at 25 micrograms per cubic meter of the particulates.

The city has been shroud in gray smog since Friday, reducing visibility to a few hundred meters (yards).

The Ministry of Environmental Protection has forecast severe pollution for the greater Beijing region, the western part of Shandong province and the northern part of Henan province until Tuesday, when strong winds from the north are expected to blow away air pollutants.

The ministry has advised people to stay indoors.

Authorities blame coal burning for winter heating as a major culprit for the air pollution. The ministry said it had sent teams to check on illegal emissions by factories in several northern Chinese cities.

In the past, authorities have shut down factories and pulled half of the vehicles off the roads to curb pollution. But such drastic measures are disruptive and are used only when the government feels it needs to present a better image to the world, such as when China hosts major global events or leaders.

THE ARBORETUM December 9, 2015

Today is the second day of Beijing’s severe air pollution emergency that has closed schools and factories. As a result, the government has banned the three most severe forms of air pollution: open fires, car exhausts, and Donald Trump speeches.

Harry Potter creator JK Rowling tweeted Tuesday that her villain Voldemort was not as bad as Donald Trump. So that pretty much kills the plan to rename Hogwarts the Trump School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Taxi drivers in Toronto are staging a mass protest this morning against Uber. And because scores of cabs will be tied up blocking traffic during rush hour, city officials are urging commuters to use Uber.

A New York City police lieutenant and a detective were arrested Tuesday for taking bribes from karaoke bars in exchange for advance warning of police raids. And since the bribes took place in karaoke bars, Robert Sung and Yatyu Yam face up to 15 years in Sing Sing.

A top Navy officer has been fired from his supply post for public drunkenness and nudity during an April defense conference in Ponte Vero Beach, Florida. But on the bright side, Rear Admiral David Baucom is being scouted by the Village People.

Two home-shopping veterans plan to launch a 24-hour shopping channel for guns in January. Valerie Castle and Doug Bornstein say that GunTV will sell “a vast array of firearms, bullets, and holsters.” Customers will be able to pay for their merchandise via MasterCard, Visa, or AK-47.

And from the January 15, 2005 Arboretum Archives: A 66-year-old Romanian woman, Adriana Iliescu, became the world’s oldest mother today after giving birth to a baby daughter. Everyone is doing fine, although the baby claims that nursing is like drinking from a dribble glass.

© 2015 Towle Tompkins

The Great Smog of 1952

#in 28,556 Londoners died in the Nazi bombings of World War II. But did you know that 12,000 residents of the Capital died in the Great Smog of 1952? In early December of that year, a cold front moved across southern England and people began to fire up their coal furnaces to keep warm. The prevailing winds stalled and a heavy smog descended over the City. Thousand of people became ill as visibility declined to less than one foot.

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There were about 8.2 million people living in Greater London in 1952. 

Could such a tragedy happen again? Is it happening already?

There are about 20 million people living in Beijing. According to The Economist, Beijing has pollution levels that are four times as high as Los Angeles.

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Smog in Beijing

“Beijing city officials announced on January 6th that by month’s end they would start reporting readings on “PM 2.5”—particulate matter that measures 2.5 microns or less in diameter, fine enough to enter deeply into the lungs and bloodstream and cause the most serious health problems.”

For an amazing collection of photos of the Great London Smog, link here…

Chinese president Xi Jinping blogged for the first time—and 48,000 people commented: #Updates China’s biggest microblogging site, Weibo, is not unfamiliar to foreign head of states. Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, UK prime minister David Cameron, Venezuelan president…
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In Beijing, a Day Off School for Smog Is No Fun for Anyone

By Javier C. Hernández, NY Times, Dec. 9, 2015

BEIJING–Wu Yiling, a 15-year-old student with a love of hamburgers and Hello Kitty, celebrated when she heard that her school was canceling classes for three days because of air pollution. Finally, she would be able to stay up late watching her favorite Korean soap operas, she imagined, and playing computer games with friends.

Yet at the crack of dawn on Wednesday, Yiling’s mother jolted her out of bed.

Her literature teacher had assigned 100 pages of reading, including an intricate Song dynasty poem. Her mother had arranged a tutoring session with a math instructor. An English teacher had announced that there would be a six-part exam on Friday.

“I quickly learned that there’s no such thing as a day off,” said Yiling, who attends a high school in eastern Beijing. “Even when we can barely breathe outside, somehow we are supposed to do our schoolwork.”

As smog blanketed this city for a second day on Wednesday, reviving calls for officials to take action, millions of families grappled with the unexpected closing of schools across the city.

Parents searched frantically for day care options. Teachers drew up impromptu lesson plans for use at home. Students who dreamed of leisurely breaks and trips to the mall braced for hours of drills and review sessions instead.

In online forums, students bemoaned the amount of work they had to complete over the three-day break.

“You may never know how badly we will be tortured by the teachers in the three days that we are home,” an unidentified student wrote on a widely circulated post on Weibo, a microblogging service. “Kids in Beijing, go cry.”

Several parents and students said they were concerned that school closings would become more frequent as the severe air pollution persisted. While Beijing has historically kept its schools open, no matter how poisonous the air, the government this week issued what it called a red alert for the first time, advising schools to close down from Tuesday through Thursday.

Factories were also shut and half of all cars were kept off the roads. But in other cities across northern China, tens of millions of people, including schoolchildren, went about their daily routines in toxic air that was far worse than Beijing’s. “Smog will be the norm in the future, so what are you going to do about it?” said Zhang Lili, 38, a university instructor in Beijing and the mother of an 8-year-old son. “Are we supposed to suspend classes whenever there is smog? Am I supposed to become a stay-at-home mother?”

As smog levels reached hazardous levels on Wednesday, parents hoarded face masks and bought air purifiers. Some said it was unsustainable to have students studying at home and questioned whether it was an effective safety precaution.

“Schools and homes share the same air pollution problem,” said Chen Xiao, 35, a translator who is the father of a 9-year-old boy. “My son can still be hurt by smog.”

Mr. Chen said the pollution had gotten so bad recently that his family was considering leaving Beijing.

Chinese parents invest extraordinary amounts of time and money to ensure that their children succeed academically, and many said they worried their children might fall behind if they were kept out of school too long.

School closings in Beijing are rare, given the city’s dry climate and lack of snow. An exception was the outbreak of the SARS respiratory virus in 2003, when the city suspended classes for several weeks.

The red alert led residents to take more precautions, but the lack of official responses in cities like Anyang, in Henan Province, and Handan, in Hebei Province, both with hazardous levels of smog, pointed to a major shortcoming of efforts by Chinese officials to battle air pollution and protect people from its effects.

Some experts said that Beijing’s red alert was a watershed moment, though, and that other provinces could feel pressure to impose stricter measures–if only to lessen some of the pollutants from their factories blowing to Beijing, a showcase metropolis and home to more than 20 million people–including the Communist Party leadership.

“There will be pressure on them, but whether they will do it or not is a question,” Wang Tao, an energy and climate scholar at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy, said of provincial and local officials.

In issuing the red alert this week, Beijing officials told parents that while classes were suspended, students should continue studying. They encouraged parents to use the time to teach their children “life and safety” lessons. The government also unveiled a database of 5,000 lecture videos, covering topics like Chinese history and biology, on a state-run digital education platform.

Private tutoring companies, a booming industry in China, seized on the disruption caused by the smog to make a pitch for their products. Some offered extra tutoring sessions to help prepare for college exams. Others advertised online courses, saying that parents could return to work with peace of mind while their children studied at home.

At some of Beijing’s most competitive schools, parents were asked to provide pictures of their children completing school assignments as proof that they were still studying. They happily complied, flooding online forums with snapshots of their children seated at desks and next to calculators.

He Mei, 40, a housewife in Beijing, said her daughter, He Xiang, 8, could have a healthier lifestyle by studying at home, taking more breaks and eating more fruit.

“Beijing is dirty and dry,” Ms. He said. “Staying at home is good for her health.”

Her daughter disagreed. “I don’t like the smog,” she said. “I want to go outside and play with my classmates.”

When Ma Chenlei, 44, an engineer, and Wang Yanhui, 46, a salesman, first heard that the pollution in Beijing would reach hazardous levels this week, they decided to stay home with their two children until classes resumed. They have alternated study time with play breaks and occasional walks around the block, to make up for missed exercise classes.

“I don’t like it, I cough a lot,” said their 7-year-old daughter, Yifan. “When I wear a mask, I feel a little suffocated.”

Inside the family’s apartment on Wednesday, Yifan showed off her completed math and English homework, which she had sent to her teachers, while her 3-year-old brother, Yichen, played with racecars.

Ms. Ma said her daughter’s school was planning to install air filters next year. In the meantime, she said, there was nothing they could do to alleviate the pollution.

“We hope that every day the air is clean,” she said. “But it will take much longer than one or two days to solve this problem.”

Kissing the Smog Monster

Kissing the Smog Monster: A semi-serious Red Alert FAQ about how we’re coping with Beijing’s smog emergency.

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Two photographs of the The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests (祈年殿) at the Temple of Heaven taken 48 hours apart last summer. Welcome to my world. At 6:30 pm local time last night, Beijing issued its first ever “Red Alert” for air pollution. Under stringent new guidelines enacted this past March, a “Red Alert” calls for the closure of factories, construction sites, and, theoretically, schools. 50%…

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The Privileges of China's Elite Include Purified Air

By Andrew Jacobs, NY Times, November 4, 2011
BEIJING–Membership in the upper ranks of the Chinese Communist Party has always had a few undeniable advantages. There are the state-supplied luxury sedans, special schools for the young ones and even organic produce grown on well-guarded, government-run farms. When they fall ill, senior leaders can check into 301 Military Hospital, long considered the capital’s premier medical institution.

But even in their most addled moments of envy, ordinary Beijingers could take some comfort in the knowledge that the soupy air they breathe on especially polluted days also finds its way into the lungs of the privileged and pampered.

Such assumptions, it seems, are not entirely accurate.

As it turns out, the homes and offices of many top leaders are filtered by high-end devices, at least according to a Chinese company, the Broad Group, which has been promoting its air-purifying machines in advertisements that highlight their ubiquity in places where many officials work and live.

The company’s vice president, Zhang Zhong, said there were more than 200 purifiers scattered throughout Great Hall of the People, the office of China’s president, Hu Jintao, and Zhongnanhai, the walled compound for senior leaders and their families. “Creating clean, healthy air for our national leaders is a blessing to the people,” boasts the company’s promotional material, which includes endorsements from a variety of government and corporate leaders, among them Long Yongtu, a top economic official who insists on bringing the device along for car rides and hotel stays. “Breathing clean air is a basic human need,” he says in a testimonial.

In some countries, the gushing endorsement of a well-placed official would be considered a public relations coup. But in China, where resentment of the high and mighty is on the rise, news of the company’s advertising campaign is stirring a maelstrom of criticism. “They don’t have to eat gutter oil or drink poisoned milk powder and now they’re protected from filthy air,” said one posting on Sina Weibo, the country’s most popular microblog service. “This shows their indifference to the lives of ordinary people.”

News that Chinese leaders are largely insulated from Beijing’s famously foul air comes at a time of unusually heavy pollution in the capital. In recent weeks, the capital has been continuously shrouded by a beige pall and readings from the United States Embassy’s rooftop air monitoring device have repeatedly registered unsafe levels of particulate matter.

But those very readings, posted hourly on Twitter or through an iPhone app, have prompted a public debate over whether the Chinese government is purposely obscuring the extent of the nation’s air pollution. Unlike the American Embassy readings, Chinese environmental officials do not publicly release data on the smallest particulates, those less than 2.5 micrometers, which scientists say are most harmful because they are able to penetrate the lungs so deeply. Instead, government data covers only pollutants larger than 10 micrometers–a category that includes sand blown in from the arid north and dust stirred up from construction sites.

Environmental officials prefer to focus on air quality improvements of recent years, largely achieved by replacing coal-fired stoves with electric heaters and closing heavy industry in and around the capital. Driving restrictions have slightly eased the environmental injury of the 700,000 new vehicles that last year joined the capital’s jammed roadways.

But when pressed, those same officials acknowledge that their pollution metrics willfully ignore the smaller particles, much of them generated by car and truck exhaust. In fact, the American Embassy’s monitor has become an unwelcome intrusion into China’s domestic affairs, according to a diplomatic cable released this year by WikiLeaks, which said a Foreign Ministry official had requested that the Americans stop publicizing the data.

In response to criticism over the heavy smog of recent weeks, a spokesman for the city’s environmental protection bureau, Du Shaozhong, assured the public that they should feel secure in the government’s own readings, which termed the city’s air “slightly polluted” even as the embassy monitor found it so hazardous that it exceeded measurable levels. “China’s air quality should not be judged from data released by foreign embassies in Beijing,” he said.

According to the Broad Group’s Web site, it did not take much to convince the nation’s Communist Party leaders that they would do well to acquire the firm’s air purifiers, some of which cost $2,000. To make their case, company executives installed one in a meeting room used by members of the Politburo Standing Committee. The deal was apparently sealed a short while later, when technicians made a show of cleaning out the soot-laden filters. “After they saw the inklike dirty water, Broad air purifier became the national leaders’ appointed air purifier!” the Web site said.

Fall smog ramps up, so does air-related illness

A familiar cough remedy and a package of antibiotics.

I felt run down earlier in the week and just assumed it was due to the march of fall and increasing seasonal levels of Beijing’s infamous smog.

PM2.5 particulates in the air, that is, those are small enough to take up residence in your lungs, are a serious health concern for anyone living in China’s capital and its major cities and industrialized areas.

But when I woke up Wednesday feeling worse and couldn’t talk, it was time to see a doctor. My friend Murray took me to China-Japan Friendship Hospital, which is where our China Daily health insurance pays for our medical care.

China-Japan has an international clinic, where chances are fairly good you’ll get an English-speaking doctor. Luck was with me as the young doctor who examined me had very good English and after a test, diagnosed me with a throat infection.

Aside from seasonal colds, I hadn’t had many lung and throat related problems before I moved to Beijing. I’m convinced the bad air plays a big role in that.

Just before 6 pm Thursday, the Air Quality Index was 193, which is considered unhealthy. I’m fortunate I have a top of the line air purifier in my apartment, which I bought last winter second hand from a departing friend. It certainly helps.

Beijing’s blue skies vanish immediately after massive military parade

By Casey Taylor, Daily Buzz, 9 Sep, 2015

China’s capital took two and a half million cars from its highly condensed streets and the effects seem to have been, quite simply, glorious–albeit short lived.

Among other recent changes to environmental regulations in the lead up to last week’s military parade–including being forbidden to barbecue outdoors–people in Beijing were limited to driving only on certain days of the week, depending on whether their license plate ends in an odd or even number, The Economist reports.

The temporary changes had people in Beijing enjoying a breath of fresh air, something they’re not all that used to. But the new-found blue skies and sunshine started to fade pretty quickly–less than 24 hours after the parade, to be exact.

The official press agency of the People’s Republic, Xinhua, reported just over a week ago the country’s top legislature passed new reforms to its Air Pollution Control Law. The changes claim to be aimed at reducing the various sources of the smog that so often blankets cities across the country.

It’s pretty common for people in the country to frequently check the air quality on smartphones and laptops because of the level of smog poisoning the air. Beijing initially toyed with the idea of limiting car usage during the 2008 Summer Olympics, according to the BBC.

The strategy, known as “road space rationing,” is used in major urban centers in Mexico, Chile, Brazil, Chile and elsewhere.

France also implemented a road space rationing strategy for Paris last year, but it seems the City of Love wasn’t infatuated with the idea and it was scrapped after only 24 hours, reports.

If Beijing’s success has taught us anything, it’s that the road space rationing initiative can produce significant, albeit fleeting results.


Matt with his Beijing air pollution cleaning device. Once visited his studio and this is but one of the strange inventions and devices he dreams up.

Beijing limits sale, use of Spring Festival fireworks

Beijing, Feb 5 (IANS) The sale of fireworks and their use will be banned in the Chinese capital Beijing if serious air pollution is forecast for the upcoming Lunar New Year celebrations, the media reported on Friday.

The ban will take effect if smoggy conditions warrant an orange or red air quality alert during the holiday, which begins on February 7, the People’s Daily reported.

A red air quality alert is China’s highest air pollution warning, which was issued twice in December 2015.

Starting from Wednesday, 719 vendors have began selling firecrackers in Beijing – 23.7 percent fewer than last year.

Fireworks sale will continue for 10 days. Any unsold items must be in storage by February 18, according to Beijing’s Administration of Work Safety.

The Chinese have a tradition of celebrating the Lunar New Year with firecrackers and fireworks, hoping the noise can fend off evil spirits and bad luck. However, with regular bouts of smog hitting China in recent years, the contribution of fireworks to air pollution has drawn attention from the public and authorities.

More and more customers prefer to buy environmentally-friendly fireworks – which contain no sulphur and emit less smoke – through e-commerce portals where they could get a 31 percent discount, said a supplier who sold 100,000 yuan worth of firecrackers on the first day.

British athletes issued with key Zika virus guidance before Rio Olympics
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#OlympicGames #Beijing2008 [The Guardian]The president of UK Athletics, the former Olympic relay champion Jason Gardener, said athletes must be fully informed of the dangers before travelling to the Games, citing Beijing 2008 when air pollution concerns were raised beforehand. “You only have to …
Companies in South China See Silver Lining in Beijing’s Smog

By Jane Perlez and Yufan Huang, NY Times, Dec. 22, 2015

BEIJING–The online ads sound alluring: Come to the sunny south of China and forget the smog of Beijing, they say. Enjoy the laid-back lifestyle; abandon unhealthy Beijing!

As Beijing residents endured heavy smog on Tuesday, the last day of a four-day red alert for hazardous air pollution, companies in southern China have been advertising the attractions of their sun-filled, tree-lined cities, all in a bid to lure smart, educated and ambitious employees from the north.

Amy Li, a human resources adviser at Umeox, a technology company in Shenzhen that makes smartwatches, said the clean air at the technology park where her firm is was a big bonus in her recruiting drive.

“You’ll never need to wear a mask here,” Ms. Li said. “Our company is surrounded by green plants, and everything is clean and neat.”

No one is suggesting that the air in Beijing is the catalyst for a major brain drain from capital to southern cities–at least not yet. Nor does there seem to be a migration of older Beijing residents who want to swap the smog for sunshine in the way that American retirees flock to Florida.

But as patience frays over the inconvenience of red alerts, and worries mount over the risks to long-term well-being, leaving can seem like an enticing solution. On Tuesday afternoon, the air quality index in Beijing was 506, according to the United States Embassy, 20 times the safe limit set by the World Health Organization.

On Tuesday, the restrictive measures of Beijing’s second red alert this month were in effect: Schools were closed, and cars were only allowed to drive on alternate days, depending on their license plate numbers. Hundreds of factories were ordered to suspend production.

A real estate company in Shenzhen, JJS Home, needs new sales people and is pitching the clean sea air as a big attraction for prospective employees from the polluted north.

“It’s obvious that young people pay more attention to their health than their parents’ generation,” said Chen Jie, a human resources manager at JJS Home. “It’s sunny all the time here in the middle of winter. We wore T-shirts last weekend, while Beijing felt so gloomy.”

So far, an online ad on a recruiting website has brought modest results, Mr. Chen said. Of the roughly 20 new hires who have joined the company each week over the last few months, only a handful have come from Beijing. Partly, he said, that was because people from nearby provinces could more easily move to Shenzhen.

But ads trumpeting jobs in the sunny south freely tap into feelings of winter blues and claustrophobia in Beijing.

“I feel so depressed when I open the window everyday and can’t even see the building across the street because of all the smog,” said Ya Hanxiang, 24, a magazine editor. “Why do I have to live here? I feel like I’m living in a basement.”

The contrast between Mr. Ya’s view of Beijing and the description of the coastal province of Shandong in an ad for a small technology company, Mengba 100, on the social media website Douban could not be more stark.

“Had enough of the sand storms? Are you becoming like dried meat as you suffer in the smog? Now you have a choice: Come to Jinan, the capital of Shandong, with mountains and lakes,” reads a promotion aimed at computer engineers.

Liu Hao, 27, the product manager at Mengba 100, who left Beijing two years ago, said he wrote the ad to appeal to people like himself.

“When I was in Beijing, I was sick for months from bronchitis caused by the bad air,” Mr. Liu said. “Now, someday when I have a kid, I’ll be able to take him to the river or woods just a few minutes’ drive away.”