Sometimes it feels like China is taunting me. Today I woke up coughing which usually means that pollution levels are high. Normally this is when I shut all the windows and hide in my badly insolated apartment. I don’t know why we haven’t bought any air purifiers yet… Anyway, today we happen to be out of bottled water.
No bottled water means a trek to a convenient and cheap water dispenser. It is absolutely not possible to drink tap water. It’s bad enough to shower in it, so we have special filters that make water pressure horrible but keep our skin from getting dry and my hair from falling out.
Going to get water is a pain in February even when it’s just cold outside. But today, getting clean water is outright dangerous. Right now the AQI is 177 which is pretty bad. An AQI between 151 and 200 is dangerous for sensitive groups and unhealthy for just about everyone.
I grew up in Prague which is said to be the most polluted city in Europe. I never had asthma or any other problems and I never even noticed when the air got bad. Since moving to China, everything changed. I got very sick with bronchitis on a trip to Beijing and although all my other symptoms got better, my cough never went away. Any time the air quality is over 150, I’m coughing and wheezing unless I drink ridiculous amounts of water.
The AQI levels in Shanghai are usually worse than in Huaqiao, and right now their pollution levels are at 190. This doesn’t seem too much higher than here, but if it goes up by just 10 more then everyone, even non-sensitive people, may experience serious health effects. At 200 you can taste that something is wrong with the air!
The highest AQI that I’ve ever experienced was 350 on a random November day in Shanghai. When we arrived in the city it was already 200 but it only took 2 hours for it to skyrocket. It was hard to breathe and almost everyone around us pulled out their masks. We went to see the famous view of the financial center from the Bund but it was barely even visible. Anything over 300 is considered “hazardous” and a health warning is issued.
This year, one city in the north of China near Beijing experienced an AQI of over 1,000. They weren’t able to see two meters in front of them: schools and flights were canceled. You can read more about it here. It must be strange growing up in China where instead of snow days, school is canceled because of pollution. Can you imagine getting excited about the air being unbreathable?
Speaking of school being canceled… one middle school principle didn’t seem to care that the pollution was so bad and he forced 400 students to take a test outside! Fortunately he was quickly fired, but some of those children may be effected by his mistake for the rest of their lives. You can read about that here.
A great pollution detecting app is http://aqicn.org/. There are plenty of mobile apps too that you can have right next to your weather app… and yes, these apps have air quality forecasts up to a week in advance. It’s pretty bizarre! But so is life in China.
This year pollution levels in the Czech Republic and several US cities reached an AQI of 200. If you’re in a city where this can happen, I strongly recommend buying a mask and wearing it. It looks dumb, but it’ll prevent a lifetime of coughing. Speaking of which, I need to stop making excuses, put on my mask and go get some water before I cough up a lung. Wish me luck!