Air Pollution in Beijing At Record Levels

In recent days, the pollution in the Beijing air has reached record levels, with the PM2.5 levels surging past the U.S. Embassy’s maximum reading of 500 to reach close to 900. (PM2.5 refers to particulate matter that measures smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter.) Anything between 301-500 is declared “hazardous,” while previous readings above 500 were notoriously deemed “crazy bad” by Embassy staff. According to the World Health Organization, the recommended daily level of PM2.5 is 20. From the New York Times:

“This is a historic record for Beijing,” Zhao Jing, a prominent Internet commentator who uses the pen name Michael Anti, wrote on Twitter. “I’ve closed the doors and windows; the air purifiers are all running automatically at full power.”

Other Beijing residents online described the air as “postapocalyptic,” “terrifying” and “beyond belief.”

The municipal government reported levels as high as 500 on Saturday evening from some monitoring stations. The Chinese system does not report numbers beyond 500. Nevertheless, readings in central Beijing throughout the day were at the extreme end of what is considered hazardous according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency standards. (By comparison, the air quality index in New York City, using the same standard, was 19 at 6 a.m. on Saturday.)

Pollution levels in Beijing had been creeping up for days, and readings were regularly surging above 300 by midweek. The interior of the gleaming Terminal 3 of the Beijing Capital International Airport was filled with a thick haze on Thursday. The next day, people working in office towers in downtown Beijing found it impossible to make out skyscrapers just a few blocks away. Some city residents scoured stores in search of masks and air filters.

Live from Beijing blog posted a useful breakdown of the readings and possible reasons for the pollution.

Beijing residents on Twitter posted photos and impressions of the city under the toxic cloud, even creating a dedicated hashtag for the “airpocalypse”:

While the English version of Xinhua reported that a heavy “fog” had descended over Beijing, Chinese media did report surprisingly openly on the pollution, with CCTV even publishing a webpage dedicated to PM2.5:

The U.S. Embassy in Beijing tweets readings of its pollution index, despite the Chinese government calling the effort “illegal” last year. Earlier this month, the government announced a new website that would list daily PM2.5 readings in 74 Chinese cities. At the time of posting, the U.S. Embassy readings had dipped down to 286, a reassuring “very unhealthy” reading, and then simply posted:

For those not in Beijing, this video posted on Beijing Cream shows just how bad it was:

Read more about air pollution and PM2.5 via CDT.


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