Beijing’s air, which has exceeded the World Health Organization’s “healthy” limit every day this year, is similar to that in an airport smoking lounge.
The CHART OF THE DAY shows Beijing’s daily peak and average concentrations of PM2.5, the airborne particulate matter that raises risks for lung and heart diseases, as measured by the U.S. Embassy. The 2013 daily average was 194 micrograms per cubic meter, with an intraday peak of 886 on Jan. 12, the data show. By contrast, PM2.5 levels averaged 166.6 in 16 airport smoking lounges in the U.S., said a 2012 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Levels exceeded 1,000 in Fairbanks, Alaska during a 2004 wildfire that engulfed 6.6 million acres, the state’s website says.
“Unlike cigarette smoking, exposure to ambient air pollution is involuntary and ubiquitously effects entire populations,” C. Arden Pope III, a professor at Brigham Young University who studies the health effects of air pollution, said in an e-mail.
The city’s government this week ordered some cars off its roads, closed factories and recommended that its 20 million residents avoid outdoor activities as air pollution levels hit hazardous for a fifth consecutive day yesterday. Some flights from Beijing Capital International Airport were canceled because of low visibility. Premier Wen Jiabao said authorities should give people hope through actions.
The WHO recommends 24-hour exposure of no higher than 25 micrograms per cubic meter. Exposure to PM2.5 contributed to 8,572 premature deaths in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Xi’an in 2012, according to estimates by Greenpeace and Peking University’s School of Public Health. China, which the World Bank estimates has 16 of the 20 most-polluted cities globally, is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases.
“China will continue to advance the cause of environment protection and take all kinds of effective measures to control pollution and emissions,” Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hong Lei said in Beijing yesterday. PM2.5 refers to airborne pollutants smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, which are able to penetrate deep into lungs and even the blood stream.