The air quality in many Chinese cities is characterized by smog and a hazy and discolored view. Although the government is addressing the problem, China is still home to 16 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities while the high air pollution is causing long-term damage to the human body costing China 25 billion USD in health expenditure and lost labour productivitiy every year according to the World Bank.
Two forms of pollutants can be found in the air: PM10 like dust and construction run off which gets rejected by the body through blowing the nose, by coughing or sneezing. A more serious threat are PM2.5 pollutants coming from factories and engines as those can enter the bloodstrem when inhaled. This can lead to chronic bronchitis, allergies, and other respiratory problems as well as long term damages to the lungs and organs.
The EU regards as acceptable limit 20 microns PM2.5 per cubic meter. Shanghai records 200 while Beijing on average even reaches 230 microns. In March 2011 the Air Pollution in the capital reached 595 API (Air Pollution Index) with a visibility of only 200 meters exceeding the standard scale of 500. One month later Shanghai also recorded severe levels, pushing the air quality to hazardous, the highest level on the Air Pollution Index.
Its no wonder that diagnoses of asthma often caused or aggravated by PM2.5 are five times higher than they were twenty years ago. Yet it is not only outside pollution from factories, cars or coal processing power plants as indoor air pollution adds to the problem and one of the highest smoking rates in the world is also leading to a rise in related diseases like bronchitis, pulmonary fibrosis, and lung cancer.
And children are even more affected due to a weaker immune system and a still developing respiratory system. Fetus and newborns also have greater vulnerability as they have a higher absorption and slower clearance of toxicants and decreased ability to detoxify exogenous chemicals or to repair damaged DNA.
As similar air levels of post industrial countries in the West are still a thing of the future the question arises what pregnant women or people with children need to do in order to protect themselves from severe air pollution.
Here’s a few small points that will make a big impact on your family’s health:
- Try to evaluate the outside air quality. For Beijing the American Embassy constantly measures the air quality and the Shanghai Family Magazine has air quality data on their website.
- If the air quality is bad stay indoors as much as you can during days when pollution levels are high. If you must go outside, limit outdoor activity to the early morning hours or wait until after sunset. This is important in high-ozone conditions as sunshine increases ozone levels.
- Don’t exercise or exert yourself outdoors when air-quality reports indicate unhealthy conditions. The faster you breathe, the more pollution you take into your lungs.
- Use an air purifier that removes particles and bacteria in your home. If you have problems with toxics in your building or your neighbours are renovating make sure the device also removes glue and formaldehyde.
- When looking for a new apartment look out for an area that is near a park or green areas like Century Park in Shanghai or Shunyi in Beijing as the air quality will significantly differ from downtown areas.
- Visit restaurants that you know do not allow smoking so you do not run the risk of inhaling other people’s cigarrette smoke.
- Keep an eye on your child’s health. Children with asthma are very sensitive to air pollution but also look out for warning signs of undiagnosed asthma such as chronic coughing or shortness of breath and try to consult your pediatrician about this.
- Inform caregivers in your child’s Kindergarten or sports clubs about any medical situation and the fact that children with respiratory problems are highly sensitive to low air quality, and that an asthma inhaler is always in easy reach.
You can also explain to your child and people around you about not only ways to protect from air pollution but also encourage others to participate in activities that reduce air pollution. The air quality in most Western countries was similar twenty or thirty years ago and it did only change when people put environmental protection upon their agenda.
Nils is the founder of baby international, he’s a dad and also an advocate that our community will be renamed Shanghai Mamas (+ Papas).Nils founded baby international with his wife when his son was born. When he’s not writing for the magazine Nils is playing with Vincent or cheers for Oranje.