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Hazardous air pollution in Beijing, China

January 12th, 2013 | admin | General, Health, In the news | No Comments »

China is the worst polluted and most polluting country in the world. Today the pollution index reached an all-time high of 886 on the PM 2.5 scale. WHO (World Health Organization) warms that more than 30 days a year with 40 on the PM 2.5 scale is dangerous to health. Imagine what 886 does to your health!?!

However, no emergency warning was sent out and people continued their outdoor activity as if everything was okay. It’s going to cost live – millions of them in the future. It seems to be the way history repeats itself in China. No government does anything before millions of people die. So far “only” 8000 people died last year from pollution. Needless to say – lung cancer is the biggest killer in China, but the government likes to blame it on lifestyle choices such as smoking. “Nice” tactic if you can pin sickness on people themselves rather than failed energy, commercial and pollution policies!

The pollution in Beijing (and China) is always very high and the last week it has been above 320 (pm2.5) every day. For those of you who have never been to such polluted places, let me explain how it makes you feel (the immediate effects): You start coughing uncontrollably, your lungs hurt for every breath you breath in, your throat gets sore (you develop a throat infection), you get a headache (due to lack of oxygen), you feel dizzy, you can’t concentrate and feel overall ill. That’s the immediate effects of a day like today. The long-term effects are much worse: lung cancer, throat cancer, bronchitis, birth defects to unborn children just to mention a few.

Some background to air pollution:

Definition and principle sources

PM affects more people than any other pollutant. The major components of PM are sulfate, nitrates, ammonia, sodium chloride, carbon, mineral dust and water. It consists of a complex mixture of solid and liquid particles of organic and inorganic substances suspended in the air. The particles are identified according to their aerodynamic diameter, as either PM10 (particles with an aerodynamic diameter smaller than 10 µm) or PM2.5 (aerodynamic diameter smaller than 2.5 µm). The latter are more dangerous since, when inhaled, they may reach the peripheral regions of the bronchioles, and interfere with gas exchange inside the lungs.

Health effects

The health effects caused by air pollution PM may include difficulty in breathing, wheezing, coughing and aggravation of existing respiratory and cardiac conditions. These effects can result in increased medication use, increased doctor or emergency room visits, more hospital admissions and premature death. The human health effects of poor air quality are far reaching, but principally affect the body’s respiratory system and the cardiovascular system. Individual reactions to air pollutants depend on the type of pollutant a person is exposed to, the degree of exposure. Chronic exposure to particles contributes to the risk of developing cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, as well as of lung cancer.
As before mentioned, WHO defines the max level of PM 2.5 to be 40 for a maximum period of 30 days a year. On an average day the pollution level PM 2.5 in Beijing is around 230 (today it was 886)

Understanding the AQI (air quality index)

The purpose of the AQI is to help you understand what local air quality means to your health. To make it easier to understand, the AQI is divided into six categories:

Air Quality Index

0-50: Good
51-100: Moderate
101-150: Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups
151 to 200: Unhealthy
201 to 300: Very Unhealthy
301 to 500: Hazardous

Each category corresponds to a different level of health concern. The six levels of health concern and what they mean are:

• “Good” AQI is 0 – 50. Air quality is considered satisfactory, and air pollution poses little or no risk.

• “Moderate” AQI is 51 – 100. Air quality is acceptable; however, for some pollutants there may be a moderate health concern for a very small number of people. For example, people who are unusually sensitive to ozone may experience respiratory symptoms.

• “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups” AQI is 101 – 150. Although general public is not likely to be affected at this AQI range, people with lung disease, older adults and children are at a greater risk from exposure to ozone, whereas persons with heart and lung disease, older adults and children are at greater risk from the presence of particles in the air.

• “Unhealthy” AQI is 151 – 200. Everyone may begin to experience some adverse health effects, and members of the sensitive groups may experience more serious effects.

• “Very Unhealthy” AQI is 201 – 300. This would trigger a health alert signifying that everyone may experience more serious health effects.

• “Hazardous” AQI greater than 300. This would trigger a health warnings of emergency conditions. The entire population is more likely to be affected.

More resources:

Am I worried about the health of the Chinese people – yes, I am. And I am worried about the health of the world’s population…air pollution knows NO borders. You should be worried too!!!

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