Beijing's air quality issues are no joke. We've posted about this on Kotaku before. This post isn't about how bad it is, it's a foregone conclusion that the air quality is almost consistently bad, this post is about the ridiculous nature of air quality readings in the Jing (what Beijing expats sometimes call Beijing).
Every morning before I leave my apartment near Beijing's north fourth ring road, I check three different Air Quality Indexes to find out what the day is going to be like. I wake up around 6 a.m. daily to check the first readings of the day, they set the tone of my day (I wake up this early because: 1) I have a dog, and 2) I have terrible sleeping patterns). The three AQI sites I read are the US Embassy AQI, AQI CN (an combination of various readings), and finally the Beijing City Municipal readings. Of the three only the Beijing Municipal reading has the "official" China label; it is the metric put out by the government.
This particular morning, 5-24-2013 at 8:30am Beijing time, the AQI readings from the US embassy reads "223" - very unhealthy, AQI CN reads "223" as well, but the Beijing Municipal reading is only "85-105" with a good rating.
Not to get over my head with science and mathematics that I don't really understand and to put it in lay-man's terms AQI is measured by gathering information about the local air be it just samples or readings. Basically, little tubes called "diffusion" tubes are hung outside collecting samples of what is in the air. After a while they tubes are removed and tested to find out how bad the Air Quality is.
What the stations are measuring for is something called P.M. 2.5. PM 2.5. or Particulate Matter measuring 2.5 microns shows how much small breathable crap is in the air. Some of this crude can be inhaled and absorbed through the lungs causing massive problems from breathing issues to other more heinous ones.
Here is a handy graph to show what the AQI levels mean.
Beijing's record high was this past January where the AQI readings hit past 300 and reached 700... The Chinese government readings only went as high as 500.
In Beijing, the US embassy takes readings from the embassy location on near the east third ring road in Chaoyang district. The Beijing Municipal government says they have monitoring sites all over the city including the out lying districts.
AQI CN uses a combination of the US Embassy, Beijing Municipal and two other sources which measure for Beijing's three largest central districts.
So why is Beijing's air quality so bad? Beijing is located inland in an area that is slowly being eroded by decertification. It suffers from yearly sand storms and sometimes ridiculous winds. Beijing is also surrounded on all sides by the most polluted cities in China, all of which are factory towns that supply Beijing with what it needs. In short - Beijing is polluting itself.
As I prepare to leave my apartment for work this morning, I have to ponder, which of these readings do I believe. Do I believe the Chinese government and their terrible record on anything environmental aside from Panda Sexing or do I believe the US government and other western outlets? Am I to wear the ridiculous facemask that I'm sporting in the Top Photo or do I brave the waste that is Beijing? Since I fear for my life, I will believe the US reading, particularly since I can't see the sky this morning.
I will wear my face mask.
Eric is a Beijing based writer and fat man. He writes about all subjects particularly about games and food. To contact the author of this post @ FatAsianTechie@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @FatAsianTechie.