Breathing in Beijing?


May 26th, 2009, 05:27 PM
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Breathing in Beijing?

Anyone who has been to Beijing - how bad was the air? Did you take a breathing mask? Do you recommend going for someone who has asthma? Planning possibly to go in August.
BamaBrooks is offline  
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May 26th, 2009, 05:44 PM
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I have been to Beijing three times now, and did not have any problems with the air quality and my lungs. However, I wear contacts and my eyes were sore by the end of the day. On windy days there was a fair amount of dust etc. in the air.

BUT....I was there in November, and I don't have asthma.

I would not recommend wearing a mask. Try wearing one at home for a day and you will realize how truly annoying they are!
poutine is offline  
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May 26th, 2009, 06:32 PM
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Beijing is a hotpot in August.
It also has showers in August to cool off and clean up the air.
Bring enough Tamiflu though.
Cat12345 is offline  
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May 26th, 2009, 07:29 PM
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I suffer from a lot of allergies and wear a simple mask when gardening here in California. Yes, it takes some getting used to, but the benefits are so much greater that whatever small discomfort is worth it.

Should you wear a mask in Beijing? Depends. Beijing suffers from everyone using coal - for cooking, for heating, for industry - from a plethora of smokers, and from an occasional sand storm blowing in from the Gobi Desert. Also it gets hot in Beijing in August. So, it all depends on what the weather will be like when you get there. Beijing does have clear days and you might luck out.

Why not take a couple of simple masks along? Can't hurt!
easytraveler is offline  
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May 26th, 2009, 07:58 PM
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Hard to find authentic Mongolian Hotpot restaurants that still use charcoal in Beijing these days.
That's good for the air.
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May 27th, 2009, 07:01 AM
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I find it worse in warmer weather but it varies with each visit. If you have serious asthma is it a must to see? I have allergies and sometimes after a week it feel rotten or always seem to get a cold in beijing so bring some sinus meds. I also just buy some there as yes folks western meds do exist there too Sometimes I take a combination of Chinese and Western meds if I get a bad dose and my Chinese friend takes me to a Chemist. What is tamiflu?
SiobhanP is offline  
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May 27th, 2009, 11:08 AM
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I went in April and the day we arrived in Beijing, the pollution was terrible. My eyes burned and my throat burned too. The next day the breeze came up and it was much better. But you can`t count on that happening. I wouldn`t go if I had asthma. I have read that masks don`t do much good, as the particles in the air are fine. I saw very few masks in China. The other places I visited in China were just as polluted. I met people who were going home and seeing their doctors for bronchitis. Is it worth it to you to take the chance?
pat is offline  
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May 28th, 2009, 05:43 AM
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We were there before the Olympics so they were working on clearing the air. Never wore masks but as we left for Xian all 4 of us had the China cough. Was amazed that we saw blue skies after we left the city!!
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May 28th, 2009, 07:16 AM
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We visited Beijing in April two years ago on a trip from Korea, where we lived. Though I never suffered from asthma, I developed it in Korea and noted that it was very much aggravated during our time in Beijing. It is an amazing place to see and I would hate to think you would miss it due to health concerns. That said, if you or your children suffer from asthma, I would seriously consider the discomfort, shortness of breath and sore throat that you will suffer. Absolutely I would bring an inhaler if you think you will have any need whatsoever. I didn't realize how severe the pollution was until I saw our photos of the Great Wall, shrouded in a fog. Good Luck.
tlangenbach is offline  
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May 28th, 2009, 09:44 AM
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In early 2000s, the International Olympic Committee's inspection team came to evaluate Beijing in its bid for the 2008 Summer Games.
Traffic was curtailed.
Factory furnaces, brick kilns in the vicinities were ordered to shut down for weeks.
Cat12345 is offline  
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May 28th, 2009, 10:31 AM
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I do not have asthma. I don't wear contacts. Was in Beijing in 1984, 1996 and 2007. I felt effects of the pollution more on the most recent trip. Was it because I was older and more sensitive? Don't know. The visible pollution was much heavier in 2007 but the odor better than 1996. I saw very few people wearing masks (mostly Asians). I came home with the worst cough I have ever experienced as well as an insidious rash. Don't know if the two were connected. Would I go to Beijing again? Yeah, but with a bit more preparation and help from my doctor (who treated me after the last visit).
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May 28th, 2009, 01:19 PM
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I was there in June 2005, and the pollution was pretty bad. I stayed in a highrise hotel, and the sky always had an orange tint to it. You could definitely taste it, too. I didn't have any long lasting effects from it though.
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May 28th, 2009, 02:38 PM
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I was there in mid-April 2006 and late-September 2007. Both times it was awful. In 2006, we had yellow sand blowing in from Mongolia-it covered everything. In 2007, there were 2 days when you could barely see across the street and the sun was a dull light in the sky. We were told it was cloudy but clouds don't block the view of the hotel across the street, unless of couse you're on the 150th floor! October is usually the best time for air quality although there were 3 days in our 2007 trip that there were clear, blue skies after it had rained.
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May 29th, 2009, 01:01 PM
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My family is going to China in August and both my husband and son have Asthma. I am definitely nervous but after speaking to my sons doctor we decided to go. We are bringing a nebulizer and will be prepared for the worst and hope for the best.
zverybestfamily is offline  
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Jun 14th, 2009, 06:43 AM
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I am here now and the air is good, I just finished off three years in Hanoi, Vietnam where the air quality was poor at the best of times. My husband has asthma and he is fine.
SaraJane is offline  
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Jun 14th, 2009, 08:20 AM
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You should never be asking for medical advice on public forums like this, and with asthma you should be consulting a medical professional familiar with the individual case.

> I am here now and the air is good

The air in Beijing is never 'good', the city is usually found in the short list of cities on the planet with the most pollution, and the air certainly isn't good at the moment. Glancing up to see a (rare) blue sky because higher level winds have blown some of the visible murk. Here are the readings from a few minutes ago:

6-14-2009 ; 21:00 ; Latest Hour ; 0.083 ; 164 ; Unhealthy ; Today's Avg ; 0.061 ; 153 ; Unhealthy

Here's how to read the figures:

Bio MetOne BAM 1020 in SW Chaoyang District, reading hourly PM2.5. Output: concentration, EPA AQI, definition

For a definition of these terms, see:

but to cut to the chase, setting aside particle sizes and concentrations, 'unhealthy' means:

People with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion. Everyone else should reduce prolonged or heavy exertion.

And this is, indeed, a better than typical reading for Beijing's air.

If you want to follow more closely join Twitter and follow @BeijingAir.

There's plenty more anecdotal and other material available on the web.You might like to read this post from a well-known local blogger, for instance:

Particularly: "You know the air is bad when... (no. 418 in a series)
...the sun reflecting from the top of the Gemdale office tower casts a starburst in the smog. No run for me today. I could smell coal every time I woke up during the night. That'll teach me to leave the filter off."

But you should look at the photo.

Or this blog specifically about pollution:

In particular note: "The WHO recommends an API measurement of 50 as its maximum safe daily level. May 2008 saw a daily API average of 131 in Beijing. May 27, 2008, saw the capital’s API peak at 463, over nine times the safe level."

SEPA (the relevant government agency) recommends at an API of 131 "Slight irrations may occur, individuals with breathing or heart problems should reduce outdoor exercise." And for 463 "Healthy people will experience reduced endurance in activities. There may be strong irritations and symptoms and may trigger other illnesses. Elders and the sick should remain indoors and avoid exercise. Healthy individuals should avoid out door activities."

The government's API figures are, of course, doctored, and in particular by carefully selecting the pollutants measured.

Note, too, from this Guardian article:

'A recently published study, conducted by the Chinese Academy on Environmental Planning, blamed air pollution for 411,000 premature deaths - mostly from lung and heart-related diseases - in 2003. It said that a third of China's urban residents were exposed to harmful levels of pollution. More than 100 million people live in cities, such as Beijing, where the air is considered "very dangerous".'

Other than for the Olympic blip, things have not noticeably improved. See this World Resources Institute report

And in particular: 'The real causes of Beijing’s air quality woes lie elsewhere. An article last year suggested the key component to Beijing’s ozone problem (the stuff that makes your eyes itch, causes shortness of breath and reduces visibility) is actually volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from small factories in neighboring Hebei province. A sniff test suggests that there are plenty of these factories operating in and around Beijing. Many are small (and possibly illegal), and they operate only at night to avoid the scrutiny of environmental inspectors. So the Beijing government has several problems: first, it must locate these hidden factories. Then they must shut them down—and convince neighboring provinces to do the same.

Beijing’s other major problem is particulates, which come from several sources. One is construction: Beijing is still rushing to complete non-Olympic buildings before the big day. Another is coal-fired power plants and factory boilers. China’s largest coal-mining province, Shanxi, is directly up wind of Beijing. Shanxi ships much coal to other provinces, but it also has mine-mouth power plants and coking plants that contribute to regional pollution.

A final source is trucks. As with the VOCs from small factories, emissions from heavy vehicles are worst during the night, since trucks are banned from the city during the day. Studies have shown that Beijing’s pollution levels are highest in the early morning. This would not be the case if most of the pollution came from passenger cars, which operate mainly during the day. But it is good evidence that the chief sources of pollution are the VOC-producing factories and trucks operating at night.'

Healthy short-term visitors to China are unlikely to suffer long-term ill-effects (but don't quote me on that--who knows what research will throw up next) but sensitive short-term visitors and everyone with long-term exposure should take proper medical advice on what measures to take. Anyone who has lived for long period in Beijing will tell you about the increasingly debilitating nature of the atmosphere there.

Peter N-H
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Jun 16th, 2009, 12:50 AM
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I go to work in the West, used to live in the East, riding a bike every day from work on an east-west direction, there is not any. Later, moved to South City to live each day to ride a bike on the north-south direction And from work, gradually feel a problem, and that is: north-south direction than an east-west direction to ride a bike riding a bicycle slow and time-consuming. The problem is where do?, I feel that it is a set of traffic lights at the junction problem. I feel that in urban areas, like always East-west direction to the path of the main road, while the north-south direction to the road for roads, so that the main roads in accordance with the principles of the road, an east-west direction to the junction of the green and red long time, the North-South direction is the opposite: the long duration of red lights Green light for a short time. Therefore, I feel that riding a bicycle north-south direction, each intersection, the red light is always a particularly long time, and some even up to two minutes, you get upset, and so on.
I do not know the feeling right, we have no such feeling, it may look like.
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Jun 16th, 2009, 04:43 AM
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We spent 6 days in Beijing in late May this year. It was quite breezy and the air seemed pretty good. Going out to the Great Wall we could definatly see a heavy haze in the air. The next day it rained a bit and cleared the air up. I was surprised the air in China wasn't nearly as poor during our trip as others had observed.
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Jun 16th, 2009, 07:42 PM
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Thunderstorm with heavy rain plunged Beijing into darkness at noon today.
Time to breath clean air in Beijing?
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