Jump to content

Beijing Air Pollution--an Experiment


Recommended Posts

Lots of ink continues to be spilled over Beijing’s air pollution and its potential effect on the Games, especially the athletes. As I live in Beijing, I thought it might be interesting to conduct a little observational experiment for a continuous period of time. From mid-March to end of May, I recorded observations based on sky and apparent air quality conditions, including qualitative factors such as did I have the “Beijing cough” bad, did my contact lenses protest while outside, could I see a variety of fixed landmarks from known station points, etc? While not having scientific equipment to measure particulate quantities and the like, I suspect my anecdotal results give a pretty accurate relative picture of what’s going on, and are at least as accurate as what the official Chinese or western journalists are putting out. In my observations a “blue sky” is really that, using the international definition of blue and not the Chinese one! And my observations were all taken from the center of the Central Business District, unlike the Chinese, which moved a lot of their recording equipment way out to the ends of Beijing to try to game the statistics as much as they can.

Like Olympic venue seat categories, my grades go as follows:

Category A: Sunny clear blue skies, often windy. Outdoor, endurance sport athletes should be good to go, and even non-athletes would wish they were running a marathon on a day like this. (Yes, Beijing has these.)

Category B: Almost as good as A, blue skies but with a very faint suggestion of haze over the central city, mostly due to vehicle emissions. Nearly all outdoor/endurance athletes should be OK on these sorts of days, also. The general public frolics outside on these days, too, and usually are not quite as windy.

Category C: Mildly bad by international standards. Typical of lots of developed country big cities. Mixture of vehicle emissions and factory pollution from elsewhere around and outside Beijing. Can see the sun so days are bright but heavier haze. Visibility of buildings a few kilometers away is still possible. Ordinary healthy people outside mostly OK (my contacts don’t sting), but some endurance athletes and those with asthma or similar conditions may have problems competing. These days are often not windy.

Category D: Bad air pollution. Either no wind or light wind coming from the south, which deposits the factory/chemical pollution from Shandong, Hebei, and other provinces on top of Beijing. Hazy and buildings a kilometer away start to fuzz out. The general public limits their exposure outside if possible. No Way should athletes be competing outdoors, unless it is the 100 m dash from hotel door to taxi.

Category E: Get me the H*ll out of Here! Can’t see clearly and even the building next door looks like it’s shrouded in fog. Sky is often a weird color, which is a tipoff it’s smog not fog. The pollution is even coming through closed windows in the apartment. No human, athlete or non-athlete, belongs outside without military-issue gas mask.

Beijing’s sandstorms do not always coincide with the worst air days, but sand is not an issue in the summer. Rain usually both hurts and helps components of air quality while it is occurring, most rainy days are Cat C or occasionally Cat D. Rain is most frequent and intense in the summer. Record of days (I recorded by the half-day as conditions in Beijing can change between morning and afternoon, which accounts for some fractions), in order of best to worst Category A-B-C-D-E:

March (17-31 only, 15 days I was here) : 8 – 3 – 2 – 2 - 0 (sandstorm ½ day, rain on 4 days)

April (30 days) : 2.5 – 9.5 – 8 – 7 – 3 (sandstorm no days, rain on 2 days)

May (31 days): 4.5 – 9.5 – 6.5 – 8.5 – 2 (sandstorm on 2 days, rain on 5 days)

Totals for the 76 days are interesting, Cat A + Cat B which are NICE days, are 48.7% of the total, usually breezy to very windy, wind generally coming from north. Cat C MARGINAL days were 21.7% of total, wind usually nonexistent. Cat D +Cat E REALLY SUCKY days were 29.6% of total, with wind practically always light to moderate and coming from the south.

After several years of living here, I can attest that summer is always Beijing’s worst time of year for air pollution due to hotter temperatures and wind patterns (from the south). Without intervention the % of decent days in summer is probably less than 5% and the rest split between marginal and really sucky. However, if the Chinese government does what it says it’s going to do: restrict vehicular traffic severely inside the 5th Ring Road, restrict power plants in the Beijing area and pull power from the grid that is produced elsewhere, and especially, shut or severely limit operation of all pollution producing factories in Beijing and the surrounding 4-5 provinces from July 20-September, they just might pull off a stretch of reasonably good days for the Games. I think it’s not going to be as dire as the international press is predicting. At least I really hope so.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Wow. That's really interesting what you did. I also hope that the temporary closing of factories makes a noticeable difference.

If the difference is big enough, maybe people will notice as well!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Wow. That's really interesting what you did. I also hope that the temporary closing of factories makes a noticeable difference.

If the difference is big enough, maybe people will notice as well!

I'm cautiously optimistic. From inside sources, the factory closings are a done deal, as is going to an alternating driving scheme based on odd-even license plates for respective days. The other thing that was experimented with last August was the cloud seeding and rainmaking on the outskirts of Beijing, usually this was timed so the rain would fall very late at night/wee hours of morning--this often washes away whatever is in the air and the next day is pretty much guaranteed to be at least a Category B. I have to say that it did seem to work during the week they did this. The only problem was, the Chinese screwed up their timing and accomplished it during a week the IOC team WASN'T here. So the IOC got to see mostly the "really sucky" days. :P

Seriously though, after a few years of having Augusts with almost no nice days (and sometimes the entire period June-August), people in Beijing DID notice the difference during that week last year. I'd like to think that if we get reasonably clean air during the Games, that the general public will put up such a clamor afterwards that they won't want to go backwards. We'll see....

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...