2013.12.9 shanghai air ii

Air pollution in China is a serious problem, especially in urban areas in the east like Shanghai. Over the past week, the city has been dealing with a particularity nasty bout of smog that has far exceeded safe levels according to its own Air Quality Index. The smog has been heavy since around the beginning of the month, with one of the worst days on December 6 that saw pollution levels over ten times that of the air in neighboring countries.

Although parts of China are used to periodic smog, Shanghai’s air has become a big concern for the level of PM2.5–tiny particles that are less than 2.5 microns, or 2.5 millionth of a meter, in diameter. Sometimes called “ultra-fine particles,” they come from industrial processes such as coal-burning power plants or exhaust from cars and combine with natural elements in the air. The World Health Organization warns that a large concentration of PM2.5 may lead to respiratory or cardiac problems as these tiny particles can lodge themselves deep into the lungs when inhaled.

While the WHO has recommended that PM2.5 concentration stay before 25 micrograms per cubic meter, Shanghai hit a staggering level of 361.5 micrograms on December 6.

The Shanghai Environmental Monitoring System has an English website where you can see firsthand what the air pollution is like in the city. Air quality seems to have improved somewhat since that day, but it is still higher than what is deemed acceptable on China’s own AQI.

▼ Shanghai hit a high of 465 on Dec. 6. Not the kind of record its citizens celebrate

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If you are planning a trip to Shanghai, it is probably wise to take a look at the AQI before you leave and plan accordingly. According to the U.S. embassy in Beijing, people with heart or lung problems, the elderly and children are most at risk from PM2.5 and should stay indoors with the windows closed and an air filter running. And on days where the AQI is abnormally high, everyone should just plan on staying indoors to limit your exposure to the smog. While the thought of being indoors may make you stir-crazy, be aware that it is the best option since the embassy says that masks, scarves or bandanas are pretty much useless against the incredibly small particles.

You may want to rethink your trip if the air quality is so bad that you cannot sightsee, but maybe Shanghai residents will take a tip from Hong Kong to make sure tourists can still “see” their city despite thick smog trying to ruin your vacation.

▼ Clean your lens all you want, poor tourist, that photo won’t come out any clearer

2013.12.9 shanghai air i

Sad times.

Have you ever been in the middle of smog so thick you could not see your hand in front of your face? Any suggestions on how to cope with terrible air pollution? Let us know in the comments below!

Source/Images: Toyachan Net