Bloomberg Businessweek contributor Christina Larson reports that gas masks are the latest must-have accessory for the commuting Beijing resident:
One friend, who works for an environmental nonprofit in Beijing, advised: “I have a Sportsta mask made by Respro, a U.K. company, which has a replaceable filter, which you can replace every 2 to 3 months with regular use. However, size-wise, it’s not great for women, especially women who have smaller faces.” To function optimally, he added, “It should be a snug fit.” Ideally, I should locate a store in the U.S. that sells them, but as fallback, such high-end foreign-made gas masks are now selling briskly on Taobao.com, China’s leading e-retailer.
In addition to buying face masks, people in China who can afford them are also picking up indoor air filters. Most office workers spend 80 percent of their time indoors, but Beijing’s poorly insulated buildings can’t fully keep the smog outside. Meanwhile, in the wake of a recent scandal over China’s failure to properly regulate bottled water, I’ve also been advised to purchase equipment for filtering water at home or in hotel rooms. For all China’s success in building some kinds of modern infrastructure—airports and highways, for instance—a string of recent public-health lapses has given rise to a grim, do-it-yourself approach to pollution control and personal safety. (To be sure, there’s a limit to which anyone can truly insulate herself from the city she breathes in.)
Air pollution in Beijing reached record levels in January as the capital city battled a winter “airpocalypse” that one Chinese public health expert called worse than SARS. The levels of two key air pollutants in Beijing rose by nearly 30% in the first three months of the year, and Larson also points out that China just suffered its smoggiest March in 52 years. Several recent studies have linked pollution to birth defects and premature deaths in China, and the country’s new leaders have declared “ecological progress” a priority even though bureaucratic infighting has threatened to complicate any potential solutions.