The Air We Breathe in Shanghai

Every day here in Shanghai it has been hazy. The haze comes from both the humidity (currently 56% at 93 degrees °F) and the legendary pollution….Okay, maybe it is just the pollution…

Here are a couple of views from our window today that I took around 3:00pm.

As you can see, there isn’t much to see. Neither the area south of Hongkou stadium, nor the iconic buildings in Pudong can be seen. This is the worst I’ve experienced since we arrived over two weeks ago. The air is not good today.

The U.S. consulate in Shanghai publishes its own air quality readings.

“The U.S. Consulate Shanghai has installed an air quality monitor to measure the concentration of fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) as an indicator of overall air quality in the area surrounding its Huai Hai Middle Road offices. The monitor is a resource for the health of the Consulate community, but is also available through our Twitter feed for American citizens who may find the data useful. We caution, however, that citywide analysis of air quality cannot be done using readings from a single machine. Particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter (PM 2.5) are referred to as fine particulate matter, or fine particles, because of their small size and pose the largest health risks. Fine particles are of concern since they are small enough to get into the lungs and even the blood stream.”

Here are the readings from today.

As you can see, it went up from Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups to just plain Unhealthy and then back down.

It was a late night last night (more on that in a forthcoming post on food), so the kids were tired to begin with. We had an unambitious day and kept it short, going to the Duolun Culture Road (more on that, too, in another forthcoming post) to see a small art gallery, and then the mall for some lunch and groceries. We left around 10:30am and were back at the hotel just before a quarter to two. As I write this, my daughter Meredith is asleep on her bed in front of the DVD player which is still playing the Phineas and Ferb The Perry Files DVD. Her brother is lying on his stomach next to her, still awake, watching attentively.

The US Consulate has gotten into trouble with the Chinese government for publishing their air quality readings. The Chinese government feels it’s “unreasonable” to judge Chinese air by Western standards. Though Chinese critics (yes, they do exist, so long as they stick to labor and environmental issues) use the US Consulate’s data to back up their criticisms that the Chinese government is not doing enough to improve air quality.

What’s most frustrating is that days like this make it hard to do much of anything, and a complete waste of time to go to the tops of buildings like the Jin Mao Tower or the Shanghai World Financial Center. With this kind of air, there won’t be a view to see or photograph once you get to the top. Not to mention exerting yourself to get to those attractions.

If you need to be reminded, despite the grand projects and gorgeous buildings, that China is still a developing country, you need only look out a window here.


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