Right now it seems like everyone in China, even Xinhua, is talking about the pollution. Beijing pollution has reached record highs in previous days, a staggering 900 micrograms of particulate matter per square meter. And not just any particulate matter, this is specifically referring to the most hazardous kind, measuring less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter.
Fortunately for us, the pollution isn’t quite as severe in Chengdu, but we’ve been breaking our own records recently.
The pollution index has gone over 400 this week, which is a rare and unfortunate event for the city. Along with the increased pollution, the subject of air quality has become a topic of discussion in Chengdu like I’ve never seen before. With 14 million residents in the city, few foreigners have the illusion that Chengdu isn’t polluted, but the situation has escalated to perturb even the most laid-back locals.
On the Chengdu Forum, discussion of air quality has become a recurring theme among concerned residents.The truth is that we’re all looking for ways to cope with the side-effects of Chengdu’s development. With that pursuit in mind, here are five tips on dealing with pollution in the Sichuan capital city. We need them now more than ever before.
#1: Stay Updated on Air Quality
The first thing to do is be aware of what the current condition is. Fortunately, it’s easier to do that now than ever.
Although Chengdu’s local government reports pollution data daily, information coming from the U.S. Consulate in the South of Chengdu is more accurate and reliable. When the pollution is very bad outside, the US. Consulate will report that, whereas local and regional government will ordinarily report that it’s nothing to worry about.
For monitoring pollution data on Chengdu, the most convenient method is likely your smartphone. Whether you have an Android phone or an iPhone there are free apps available that report pollution levels daily. I use China Air Pollution Index (which was mentioned among my essential China apps). Beautifully designed and super handy. There’s an Android version available, too.
If you don’t have a smartphone or want to see what the Chengdu sky actually looks like, I started taking daily photos and posting them here: Chengdu Air. There’s also the China Air Quality Index, as well as the Chengdu Environmental Department website which lists pollution in specific areas of the city.
Once you have information on when the pollution in Chengdu is tolerable and when it’s really bad, use it. Refrain from exercising outside on the really bad days.
#2: Get an Air Purifier at Home
Having one of these in your home can make a huge difference, significantly reducing particulate matter in the air as long as you have your windows closed. If you put one in your bedroom and keep it on while you sleep, you’re improving your daily breathing conditions significantly.
When purchasing one for home use, there are two options: air purifiers and ionizers. Air purifiers use HEPA filters which use special, statically charged fibers to collect airborne particulate matter. They’re relatively inexpensive, but they’re essentially a fan pushing air through a filter, which will need to be replaced and can sometimes not eliminate the smallest particulate matter.
Ionizers, on the other hand, catch everything airborne by creating a charge which makes particules stick together and fall due to their combined weight. Negative ions are healthy and found in natural environments like mountains and forests, but these devices cost more. Note that a regular part of ionizer maintenance includes sweeping the floor to collect airborne particulate matter which has fallen to the ground.
I purchased a Panasonic air filter for my bedroom which had a noticeable effect on air quality within an hour of being first turned on. It’s the same model that’s in the office where I spend my days, except there are over a dozen in the office. The cost of this particular model is about 750 yuan, a Philips AC4025.
#3: Wear a Mask Outside
This one’s especially useful if you do any kind of cardiovascular exercise outside.
Whether you’re playing tennis, cycling around Chengdu, or jogging along the riverbank, a filtered mask like the Totobo or Respro makes a big difference. Instead of coughing and having congestion after prolonged exercise, your throat will be clear and you won’t experience the normal side-effects of exposure to pollution.
You can wear these around while walking outside as well, but don’t be surprised if you get looks. I normally only wear my Respro mask while cycling around Chengdu, but I’ve been compared to Hannibal, Bane, and Sub-Zero. You will get attention.
In recent days, I’ve been wearing my Respro mask when walking along crowded streets around rush hour. It filters out much of the car exhaust smell that lingers around major roadways in Chengdu within a few hours of rush hour. By now I hardly even notice the looks I get, and I’m confident that this will become a more common sight for Chengdu pedestrians.
#4: Avoid Major Roads at Rush Hour
If you can, stay away from the major roads within an hour or so of rush hour. In Chengdu, that’s from about 4-7pm on Monday through Friday. Pollution aside, you should avoid these roads at that time of day anyway. When I’m not cycling, I take the subway to and from work, which is crowded but still easily beats the congested roads.
The roads you’ll want to avoid are first and second ring road as well as Renmin Nan Lu. I work within the Tianfu Software Park and driving from there into Chengdu is an absolute nightmare at rush hour, which can take over an hour. During that hour, wherein you traverse about 12 kilometers, you will inhale a lot of car exhaust. Skip all that noise and take the subway, which will get you within a stones throw of the US Consulate in 20 minutes flat.
Second ring road is particularly bad right now as well, due to construction. I would avoid it at all times of day, not just rush hour.
#5: Don’t Smoke Cigarettes
Chengdu sure is a friendly city for smokers. It feels like everywhere you go, people are smoking. But as pollution grows, the city becomes less conducive to activities which put your lungs and heart at additional risk. Since these vital organs are already under additional stress due to the side-effects of Chengdu’s development, give them a rest by not smoking cigarettes.
Over the years I’ve seen countless friends relocate to Chengdu and suddenly pick up smoking cigarettes. It’s one of modern China’s traditions that’s woven into business and personal relationships. Cigarettes are cheap, everyone will offer them to you, and it is a part of the bonding ritual between Chinese men. But considering the current state of Chengdu’s air, there’s less room to play games with your health.
The Bright Side
Despite the growing severity of China’s air pollution, I feel that due to these recent events, it is becoming an issue of widespread discussion. That’s a good thing.
For years I could count the number of discussions I had with Chinese people about air pollution on one hand. Now, over the past two days, everyone is talking about it. Today a colleague asked me, “Why isn’t pollution this bad in the United States?”. Hours later my roommate asked, “Where did you get your pollution mask, and how much was it?”.
Hopefully discussions like these, undoubtedly happening all across Chengdu right now, will be a catalyst for real change. In the meantime, picking up good habits and taking a few precautions will go a long way towards enjoying more of what’s great about Chengdu.