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Reiland: The air's a little hazy

BY JORDYN REILAND | JUNE 28, 2013 5:00 AM

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BEIJING — I can’t always tell the difference between night and day here.

There are some days where the smog chokes the air, masking the skyline, only to leave faint stencil outlines of the tall buildings that surround me.

It isn’t always this way, and the sky has brightened up since I arrived in Beijing three weeks ago. When the sun comes out, the cityscape comes alive, and the parasols are out in full force. I myself like to take in its glorious rays without any umbrella-like protection, but with each sunny day, usually a cloudy one follows.

I often catch myself checking the air quality numerous times throughout my workday on a website that measures PM2.5 in hopes of seeing green — an indication that the air quality is “good” today. I can only recall it being green once or twice. Almost every other time, it has been in the yellow or red, meaning the air quality is considered fair or unhealthy. Some people compare the air quality on “red” days to smoking an entire pack of cigarettes in one day.

PM2.5 is classified as an air pollutant that reduces visibility and causes the air to appear hazy. On the days when the air quality is bad, I often find myself short of breath and frequently coughing.

Facemasks are popular and plentiful, ranging from ones that are as simple as a doctor’s masks to full-on Bane masks [excuse my movie reference there]. I don’t have one, and I probably won’t invest in one during my time here. Besides, I already apologized to my lungs prior to my trip anyway.  

The Chinese government recognizes that there are several regions of the country that have poor air quality, including Beijing. Several news outlets, including China Daily, have recently reported that government officials are developing new measures to try to reduce the air pollution. After the air-quality levels were recognized as an 800 on the scale in January of this year  — four times higher than what is considered unhealthy — government officials started closely monitoring the levels of pollution and reported them to the public several times a day.

So why is the air quality still bad? China did host the 2008 Olympics here, didn’t it?

All eyes were on Beijing because of the changes it was required to implement in order to even get the go-ahead to host the 2008 Games. However, after it was all said and done, officials realized how expensive it was to try to continue their efforts.

According to a study done by the Journal of the American Medical Association published in May 2012, the Chinese government spent roughly $17 billion in preparation for the games. The efforts included shutting down factories and limiting automobile traffic for the duration of the Olympics and the Paralympics.

It’s probably also important to note that Beijing’s population is 20 million as of 2011. Think about that for a second.  

I brought my running shoes on the trip in hopes of doing a little extracurricular jogging. I’m not a marathon runner, but I did hope to wear-in the soles a bit on the weekends. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen unless I am interested in coughing up my lungs.

I’m sure there were some people who risked it and got some exercise, but I’ll save my lungs and run another day.

Daily Iowan staffer Jordyn Reiland is spending the summer interning for the China Daily in Beijing. Look for her weekly columns each Friday in the DI.


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