How to tackle pollution in Beijing

Protect your family from the smog with these must-have gadgets and key info

Air photo from Shutterstock

Pollution is a top concern for expat families in Beijing, no doubt about it. We’ve heard it time and time again from families we speak to: Beijing is a fantastic place to raise kids in, if only the air was better. But thanks to a growing range of gadgetry and schools investing in air purification, we can control the quality of the air around us. Arm yourself with some key info, essential equipment and a dose of smart judgement, and you're all set to beat the Beijing smog.



First off, why is the smog considered to be so bad in Beijing?

Because it contains a high dose of PM2.5 particles, which are small enough to get into the bloodstream and do damage to the respiratory system. They say it’s caused by a combination of pollutants coming out of factories and construction, car emissions and coal heating, kept locked in by the city’s weather conditions.


How can I find out how bad it is on any given day?

By looking at the air-quality index, known as AQI. The readings most trusted by the expat community are taken by the US embassy, which also issues broad guidelines of what level is unsafe for whom. For real-time readings, download the ‘Beijing Air’ app. For broadly accurate pollution forecasts a few days ahead, go to http://aqicn.org/forecast/beijing/.


Which are the best masks to wear outdoors?

There are several brands on the market, from functional looking ones to more fashionable solutions, many with kids’ sizes. Key thing to know: most masks follow American standards to show their anti-haze index. Basically, the higher the number, the better. An N90 mask, for example, filters out 90 percent of airborne particulates in the air. Choose a model with N95 or above and you're good to go for PM2.5.


Which are the best air purifiers to install at home?

Again, there are several brands available with a range of price tags. Whether you try out Xiaomi’s wallet-friendly offering or invest in expat fave Blueair, you’ll find a solution that best suits your family.


How do I know my air purifier is doing its job?

By using the Laser Egg, the latest must-have gadget finding its way into every expat home. The palm-sized monitor provides AQI readings of its immediate surroundings, and can even communicate them to you while you’re out and about via an app.


What are Beijing’s international schools doing to improve air quality?

International schools in Beijing are very aware that clean air is a top priority for parents choosing where to send their kids. Each school has its own way of monitoring and improving air quality, and its own AQI cut-off for outdoor play. Several schools in Shunyi have invested in a sports dome that allows students to play games whatever the pollution reading, while one school downtown has a monitoring system that parents can view via a QR code. To find out what each school is doing, read our Q&A with key international schools.


What is the government doing to combat the pollution?

Pollution is attracting more attention from the city's authorities in recent years. They recently announced it would develop a network of 'ventilation corridors' in the city to allow the smog to escape.


When pollution levels reach 'red alert', public schools are closed and half the cars are taken off the road. Meanwhile, Beijingers enjoy blue skies during big international events such as the Olympics or APEC, or important national events such as the recent V-J day military parade, when the government imposes restrictions on factories and traffic.


What do doctors say about how the pollution affects our health?

Doctors at Beijing’s international hospitals agree that while high exposure to heavy pollution is damaging, it’s not the death-smog that some doomsayers claim it to be. The key thing is to be sensible and aware, especially if you have young children whose lungs are still developing or if you’re looking to get pregnant.


What can my family do on a bad air day?

There are various ways to stay sane and keep your kids entertained on a bad air day. Take advantage of Beijing’s indoor play areas, shopping malls and food delivery services, and check out Beijing teachers’ recommendations of indoor activities.

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