4 Things you need to know about Beijing Air Pollution

Nowadays, Beijing is not only known for its enormous Tiananmen Square, but also for its bad air pollution. The problem only seems to be getting worse. The city was put on red alert for the very first time in December 2015. All truly alarming news, but it doesn’t mean you should give up on visiting China’s capital city whatsoever. If you are planning to spend time in Beijing, have a look at our list of facts about Beijing Air Pollution to feel a bit better prepared.

1. Beijing Air Pollution is worse in Summer and Winter

Air pollution isn’t necessarily a seasonal thing. It actually depends more on factors like the wind. Nevertheless, numbers seem to indicate that conditions are usually the healthiest during spring and fall. Episodes of winter smog in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai are especially notorious for being hazardous.

Beijing Summer Palace, China.
Taken on a summer day with a fair amount of air pollution. You would normally be able to see most of the skyline of central Beijing.

2. Use respiratory masks, not surgical masks

When the air quality hits an unhealthy level, do not skip out on wearing a mask. You may already know about the common use of surgical masks in East Asian countries. Many choose to wear thin paper masks to protect themselves and others from catching contagious diseases (like the flu, or more serious conditions like SARS). Paper masks, however, don’t do much to stop you from breathing in harmful pollutants. Instead, you need to bring or locally buy better quality respiratory masks. Plain ones are usually available in supermarkets, although respiratory masks have already evolved into true fashion items in countries like China and Japan.

Beijing, PRC.

3. Download a Beijing Air Quality App

Looking outside usually gives you a rough idea about the severity of the situation, but looks can be misleading. Downloading an app is definitely a good idea. There are several free Beijing air quality apps available, either based in China or abroad. Apps like these will tell you whether the air quality is hazardous or not. The most important thing to keep an eye on is the level of PM2.5, or fine particles. I personally used two different apps: the China Air Quality Index app by FreshIdeas Studio and the Air Quality China app by scaret. You also can always check this website for realtime information.

Traffic in Beijing, China.

4. Air Pollution linked to shorter life and obesity

The long-term effects of air pollution on the human body are still being investigated. Levels have never been so high before, so many city dwellers are basically part of an ongoing urban “experiment” (oops). There is already evidence pointing to a greater risk of lung cancer, heart problems, and a shorter lifespan in general. New research now also indicates a link to Type 2 diabetes and obesity, caused by chronic inflammation of the respiratory system.

Most importantly, you should always be aware of the air quality and wear a mask when necessary. Other than that, enjoy your time in Beijing. There is no other city like it!

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