Is the smog in Beijing getting better?

Chinese New Year is long over and the heavy smog that blanketed Beijing then for a few days was probably quickly forgotten during the windy, crisp and sunny days that followed. But as it is with blue skies in Beijing, they don’t last long. As soon as the wind drops, the pollution returns.

Smog in Beijing is unavoidable, especially in winter. With windy spring under way, you can breath better again. Well, some days.

Measures to reduce the air pollution

But Beijing is making progress. At least in acknowledging the problem. The government is issuing “red alerts” when the air pollution level is off the charts, meaning levels well over 300 for a couple days.

beijing smog air pollutionAccording to the US index, PM2.5 levels over 300 are hazardous. The WHO recommends less than 25, which Beijing rarely meets. (Learn more about Beijing smog and what the numbers mean in my post here.)

During those red alerts they try to reduce emissions by placing restrictions on production plants, construction sites, and traffic. Still, those pesky smoggy days in Beijing keep returning.

The BBC ran an informative report in January 2016 with insights from experts and an analysis of Beijing air quality data from 2008 – 2015. The graph of annual averages is not very comforting. During those 7 years, there were more days with hazardous levels than with good levels of PM2.5. Even though there seem to be some improvements in the Beijing air quality over the years, the overall situation is nowhere near good.

At least reporting up-to-date air pollution levels is standard now around China. The real-time air quality index at AQICN now also includes a smog forecast for the next few days, which basically looks at the effect of the expected wind.

Living in a polluted city

While more and more Chinese are growing concerned about the air pollution, I still occasionally see older folks pushing a baby stroller around the block, even on days when you can barely see the other side of the street.

Most foreigners resort to wearing face masks and running air purifiers at their home, office, the gym, higher-end restaurants, and many other expat places, once the numbers reach a certain level.

But smog in Beijing doesn’t seem to keep people at home on a weekend night. Even open-air rooftop bars can be crowded.

Should the smog in Beijing keep you away?

I often get the question from people who are considering a job assignment in Beijing, or in China in general, if the pollution should be a reason for them not to go.

To come – or not to come to China … that is a very personal question that everyone can only answer for themselves. Beijing can be an exciting place to live. But the smog in Beijing can certainly affect your daily life if you are sensitive.

Most expats seem to deal with the pollution just fine and get used to it. They work in office environments with plenty of air purifiers. They can also afford quality air purifiers for their home. International schools are also usually diligent in monitoring and purifying air. So we are luckier than many Chinese people here who don’t have those means.

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