Showing posts with label Pollution. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Pollution. Show all posts

Sunday, March 17, 2019

U.S. Consulate in Shanghai Tweets Likely Mistaken Reports of Beyond-Crazy Bad Air in Shanghai

Nearly a full year ago, the twitter accounts reporting air quality readings for the U.S. Embassy and four U.S. Consulates in China all went silent for an extended period of time. Whatever the cause, they all eventually came back to life.

Today when I glanced at my Twitter feed, my attention was grabbed by a tweet from the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai reporting horrendous air quality there.

@CGShanghaiAir tweet reporting PM2.5 level of 985 in Shanghai

The awfulness of 985 ug/m3 for PM2.5, a particulate matter size which is an especially harmful form of air pollution, is hard to put into words. According to a U.S. government Air Quality Index (AQI) calculator, PM2.5 levels ranging from 205.5 to 500.4 ug/m3 are equal to AQIs ranging from 301-500. For 24 hour exposure, the U.S. EPA categorizes this range of AQIs as "Hazardous" — their worst category. Over 8 years ago when a machine at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing recorded a level over 500 the @BeijingAir account operated by the U.S. Embassy in China described it as "crazy bad". This accurate description was called a mistake and soon replaced with the plainer term "beyond index".

To be clear, 500 ug/m3 is the highest level the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency even bothers to categorize. A 985 ug/m3 isn't crazy bad. It's beyond-crazy bad.

Wondering what sort of calamity had occurred in Shanghai, I looked at several earlier tweets from @CGShanghaiAir. None of them reported anything near that level. For example, the previous tweet reported a PM2.5 of 118 ug/m3. This is still categorized as "Unhealthy" for short term exposure, but it is far from beyond-crazy bad.

I then checked the page on the U.S. Department of State Mission China website the reports PM2.5 AQI data for Shanghai.

Aha. The reading for the beyond-crazy bad reading wasn't appearing. The reading for 1 a.m. was also missing. So I went back to @CGShanghaiAir's tweet for that time period and . . .
another @CGShanghaiAir tweet reporting PM2.5 level of 985 in Shanghai

Aha, again. The missing readings on Mission China for 9 and 10 p.m. similarly matched up to tweets reporting the same level of pollution.

I didn't see any similar problems with recents reports for Beijing, Guangzhou, and, Shenyang. But there was a missing time period at the Mission China page for air quality in Chengdu.

A tweet from @CGChengduAir for the corresponding time also showed an out of nowhere reading of 985 ug/m3.

Aha, yet again.

While it is imaginable the AQI jumping up significantly in a short period of time due to a sudden event such as a major explosion and PM2.5 levels have surpassed 900 ug/m3 in China before, it's hard to imagine how the air quality could jump back and forth so quickly. This combined with the most suspicious readings now not appearing on the Mission China site and the absence of similar high levels in air quality reports for elsewhere in Shanghai, suggests that something was rather off with the recent tweets of 985 ug/m3 levels.

Perhaps the consulate's machine had a problem. Perhaps somebody blew smoke into the machine. I don't know. But it sure doesn't look like Shanghai's or Chengdu's air was beyond-crazy bad recently. And I'll be extra suspicious of any future tweets reporting a PM2.5 level of 985 ug/m3.

Finally, as I look now . . . @CGShanghaiAir's tweet that immediately followed the reading which first caught my attention reports a PM2.5 level of 81 ug/m3. The most recent tweet from @CGShanghaiAir at this time reports a PM2.5 level of 71 ug/m3. Both of these levels are categorized as "Unhealthy" for a 24 hour period. Still, those numbers are nowhere near 985.

So to all in Shanghai, relax. I think it's still safe to go outside with a mask on.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Silence from the Air Quality Twitter Accounts for the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Consulates in China

Several years ago, David Roberts, the former Regional Strategic Advisor for USAID-Asia, wrote about the impact of the U.S. Embassy and several U.S. Consulates in China tweeting out regular reports of pollution levels.
In 2008, everyone knew Beijing was polluted, but we didn't know how much. That year, the US Embassy in Beijing installed a rooftop air-quality monitor that cost the team about as much as a nice car. The device began automatically tweeting out data every hour to inform US citizens of the pollution’s severity (@beijingair). . . .

At first, the Chinese government pushed back and pressured the Embassy to stop releasing the data, saying that “such readings were illegal”. Fortunately, the Embassy stood its ground. Eventually, the Chinese government relented and began implementing an effective monitoring system of its own. By the beginning of 2013, it had succeeded in setting up around 500 PM2.5 stations in over 70 cities. Later that year, completing its about-face, China pledged hundreds of billions of dollars for cleaning the air and began to implement pollution reduction targets for major cities (now, like the embassy data, defined in terms of PM2.5).
I have personally found the information provided by the tweets valuable on a number of occasions. And the tweets proved useful to include in pollution-related posts here covering topics such as deceptive blue skies and children breathing hazardous air.

So earlier this evening when I saw some comments about recent pollution readings in China, I found it odd that I couldn't recall recently seeing any air quality tweets from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing or the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai, whose respective accounts I both follow on Twitter.

I went to BeijingAir's Twitter page and saw a straightforward reason. The account had stopped tweeting over a month ago on February 13.

BeijingAir Twitter account page for air quality reporting

With the curious exception of the last report, since February 7 the tweets are all of the "No Data" variety. One possible explanation for the pattern could be a problematic air quality monitor.

So then I looked at the four U.S. Consulates in China that also report air quality readings on Twitter: Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, and Shenyang.

Con Gen Shanghai Air Twitter account page for air quality reporting

GuangzhouAir Twitter account page for air quality reporting

CGChengduAir Twitter account page for air quality reporting

ConGenShenyang Twitter account page for air quality reporting

Like BeijingAir, they all stopped reporting at the same time on February 13. And with the exception of GuangzhouAir, they all ended with a stream of "No Data" tweets.

Whatever is happening, the "single bad machine" explanation doesn't cut it. In fact, it appears all of the air quality machines are just fine. The U.S. Department of State Mission China website currently displays recent readings for Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, and Shenyang.

Mission China page for current Beijing PM2.5 readings

Mission China page for current Shanghai PM2.5 readings

Mission China page for current Guangzhou PM2.5 readings

Mission China page for current Chengdu PM2.5 readings

Mission China page for current Shengyang PM2.5 readings

So the data is out there. And links to the respective twitter accounts still appear on the websites of the embassy and three of the consulates. Yet for longer than a month all of the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Consulate twitter accounts for reporting air quality information in China have been completely silent. This is a remarkable change.

I find it peculiar, at best, that I can't find any public explanation. So what's going on?

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Another View of the Juzizhou Bridge in Changsha

A followup to yesterday's Halloween-themed post is taking longer than expected and won't be finished today. So I will do a different (and simpler) followup.

Recently I shared photos of Changsha's Juzizhou Bridge viewed from the east side of the Xiang River north of the bridge as the sun lowered in the sky. For a variation, here is a photo taken from the west side of the Xiang River south of the bridge as the sun was close to going behind Yuelu Mountain, which is out of view.

two men fishing and the Juzizhou Bridge in Changsha

Of note are the two men fishing on the left side of the photo, the numerous buses on the bridge, and the taller buildings on the right side, three of which stand out more flashily in a photo I took at night four years ago from the same side of the river north of the bridge. Similar to the previous photo, the trees in the far distance are all on Tangerine Island in the middle of the river. The scene is less orangish than the previous photo probably due to facing away from the sun and a clearer sky, though the air quality was still bad — hovering around the border between the Unhealthy and Very Unhealthy categories for just a 24-hour exposure. The full size of the uploaded photo is slightly larger than usual and should be viewable by clicking (or whatever it is you do) on the photo above.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Juzizhou Bridge: A Return to Changsha, Hunan

As recent posts suggest, I am now in Changsha, the capital of Hunan province. I arrived here while the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China was underway. Coincidentally, I was also in Changsha five years ago during the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China. At that time I experienced great difficulty using my VPN to get through the Great Firewall and access online sites blocked in China. This time I have had a far more online positive experience. I have not had any additional unusual problems since those I experienced almost three weeks ago in Zhongshan, Guangdong.

When I mentioned some of the internet challenges I faced five years ago, I shared a photo of Changsha's Juzizhou Bridge. A year later, I shared another photo of the bridge, this one from the western side of the river at night. Although a subway line below the river now matches its path, the bridge remains an important link across the Xiang River while also connecting Tangerine Island (Juzi Zhou) to both sides. Below is a fresh series of eight photos taken north of the bridge from the eastern side of the river. The colors may seem a bit off, but they are in part a result of something that hasn't changed much in Changsha since I first visited the city over 8 years ago — heavy air pollution. All of the photos include Tangerine Island, which blocks the view of the shoreline on the river's other side where the most easily visible buildings stand. In addition to people on and below the bridge, vehicles crossing the river, and ships passing by, the sun descends from one photo to the next, eventually to be partially hidden by Yuelu Mountain.

two people under Juzizhou Bridge (橘子洲大桥) in Changsha

ship and Juzizhou Bridge (橘子洲大桥) in Changsha

buses and people on Juzizhou Bridge (橘子洲大桥) in Changsha

two boats approaching Juzizhou Bridge (橘子洲大桥) in Changsha

ship approaching Juzizhou Bridge (橘子洲大桥) in Changsha

man under Juzizhou Bridge (橘子洲大桥) in Changsha

buses crossing Juzizhou Bridge (橘子洲大桥) in Changsha

sun setting behind Juzizhou Bridge (橘子洲大桥) in Changsha

Thursday, May 4, 2017

A Good Air Day in Guilin

It looks like I owe some people a Texas Burger. Excellent. Not at all to my surprise, I quickly received correct identifications of my destination after I departed Hengyang. To celebrate, here is a photo from today taken from the same vantage point in Guilin, one of the cities in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region with a eye-catching mix of urban scenes and karst topography, as the photo in the previous post, though facing a slightly different direction and sans McDonald's.

central Guilin on a day with good air and partly cloudy skies
Looking out towards Guilin Central Square and Seven Star Park

I felt inspired to take another photo because of the good weather and the "good" air. I use the quotation marks because if these air quality readings had been taken in the U.S. they would be classified in the "good" category for air quality as determined by the Environmental Protection Agency. The air has been much worse on average during the past week. The good air today was also notable because of its contrast with the air far to the north, including in Beijing, where it is "crazy bad" now. Guilin has had "unhealthy" air recently but hasn't approached anything like that.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Smog and Blue Spirits in Shenyang

One the same day I photographed one of the many smoggy streets in Shenyang, a digital billboard also caught my attention. A weather forecast on it didn't offer any specifics but seemed a bit optimistic.

digital billboard displaying a weather forecast for sunny skies

If the contrast lowered people's spirits, perhaps what they needed were . . . some spirits. The digital billboard displayed one possible solution: Tianzhilan.

digital billboard displaying an advertisement for Tianzhilan (洋河蓝色经典天之蓝) baijiu

Yanghe Distillery, whose ads I have seen in many Chinese cities, has some inspiring words about this baijiu:
The heights of heaven radiate hues of blue—the essence of Tianzhilan is loftiness, the upper limits of our imaginations. A glass of Tianzhilan contains the expanses of the heavens, and only those with the courage to soar will experience its beauty.
Assuming heaven is full of clean air, that could do the trick. Some people may be more influenced by the smoggy Red Star Wine ad I first saw in Beijing though. Red Star is also a lot cheaper. At least people have options, if they have the courage.

Friday, October 21, 2016

A Smoggy Street in Shenyang

Today was one of those days in Shenyang, the capital of Liaoning province, when you didn't need a portable air-monitoring device to know there was a lot of pollution in the air.

Polluted air over Nanjing North Street in Shenyang, China
Nanjing North Street today at 3:51 p.m.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Particles Inside: Time to Put on a Face Mask at the Gym

Years ago when I worked out at a gym in Shanghai, I occasionally wondered about the gym's air quality. I didn't notice anything obviously wrong, but there were still reasons to question whether they were using an effective air filtration system.

Today Benjamin Carlson, who is based in Beijing, checked the air inside one gym and . . .

That is pretty bad air. I understand Carlson's choice to wear a mask. Although there is reason to believe exercising in some types of pollution without a mask is better than not exercising at all, clean air is better (not even going to bother to source the last claim). Despite the logic, there is still something extra depressing about feeling compelled to wear a mask indoors.

The mobile air monitor Carlson is holding appears to be a Laser Egg made by Origins Technology. Paul Bischoff reported on the device's release and the technology inside it last year for Tech in Asia:
As the particles are pulled in by a fan, they pass in front of a laser. The laser refracts onto a photo sensor. This allows the device to instantly work out the size and number of particles in the air. These types of devices typically cost anywhere from US$500 to US$10,000, but Origins claims to use the same technology in Laser Egg at a fracion of the cost.
I have been tempted to buy one myself. I wonder how many times as I have traveled across the China it would have convinced me to go to sleep wearing a mask.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Mountains from Houhai

Exiting a metro station wasn't the only time clear skies and good air in Beijing caught my attention recently.

a dusk scene at Houhai in Beijing with mountains visible in the background
A clear view at Houhai

After an intense and at times slightly painful hailstorm the previous day, I took my friends visiting from the U.S. to Houhai. While standing on a small bridge over the lake, I looked at the horizon and exclaimed "I can see the mountains!" I excitedly explained to my friends that air pollution often makes it impossible to see these mountains from central Beijing.

They looked at me with expressions I probably would have had years ago. It was understandably hard for them to share my excitement since the mountain scene itself, though pleasant, wasn't especially glorious from our vantage point and my comment mostly made them think about Beijing's pollution.

I will refrain from sharing more photos featuring recent clear skies in Beijing. But after some posts on other topics, I won't refrain from sharing photos of unexpectedly clear skies in another northern city.

Friday, June 24, 2016

A Moment of Blue Skies and Good Air in Beijing

When I see people excitedly mention blue skies in Beijing, I typically have conflicting feelings. On one hand, I feel happy they are enjoying a beautiful sky. On the other hand, I find it regrettable that the moment is so special in part due to air pollution.

But I felt only amazement after existing Beijing's Dongsi Shitiao metro station a couple of weeks ago and seeing a blue sky with clouds that look normal to me though not to everybody in China. Blue skies don't always equal good air quality, but in this case the pollution levels were good according to U.S. standards for both short term and long term exposure. The sky and air were quite a change of pace from the heavy pollution on the day I arrived from Hong Kong and many other days I have experienced in Beijing.

So here are a few photos from a moment which shouldn't have been so remarkable but was.

blue skies above the intersection at the Dongsi Shitiao metro station in Beijing

blue skies and clouds reflecting off a building at the intersection above the Dongsi Shitiao metro station in Beijing

blue skies and clouds reflecting off a building at the intersection above the Dongsi Shitiao metro station in Beijing

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Umbrellas on a Dull, Rainless Day in Beijing

A scene today at the intersection of Fuchengmen Inner Street and Jinrong Street in Beijing:

female with a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses riding a scooter and two others carrying umbrellas on a cloudy day in Beijing

The sky wasn't sunny for most of the day and the air pollution was noticeable. Yet I still saw people carrying umbrellas or taking other steps useful for avoiding a tan despite the low chances. I have no new comments to add, so I will simply mention earlier posts about the umbrellas I saw on a rather smoggy day in Changsha, Hunan, and how the desire for whiter skin might be a factor in China's large number of people with vitamin D deficiency.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Face Masks for Sale: Convenience Beijing Style

Yesterday at a convenience store in Beijing I saw a selection of face masks for sale.

variety of face masks for pollution for sale at a convenience store in Beijing

Today at a different convenience store in Beijing I also saw a selection of face masks for sale.

variety of face masks for pollution for sale at a convenience store in Beijing

An earlier sighting brought back memories of the first time I wore a face mask in Beijing.

These convenience store chains don't offer all types of face masks and aren't the only locations where they are sold in Beijing, but convenience stores have the advantage of often being, well, convenient — especially useful when you need a quick fix. And simply the visibility of face masks in convenience stores may influence people to protect themselves from air pollution in one way or another. I haven't seen similar selections of face masks at convenience stores in a number of other Chinese cities with heavily polluted air, so there are both negative (pollution) and positive (protection) stories to tell about these masks for sale in Beijing.

I expect to soon be in another city which has received attention in the past for its air pollution. I will provide an update on what I find there, both in terms of the air and the selection of masks at convenience stores I visit.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Assorted Links: People's Daily's YouTube Rant, Taiwan's Principles, Delhi's Pollution, and Composer Chou Wen-chung

Some links for today:

1. China's People's Daily is upset about its YouTube account. No, People's Daily isn't advocating for YouTube to be unblocked in China. It is mad because thousands of its YouTube subscribers suddenly disappeared, and it is letting people know about it:
On Wednesday, Ren Jianmin, managing director of People’s Daily Online USA, penned an English-language online column about the paper’s YouTube channel losing thousands of subscribers in two days. Mr. Ren, who also oversees the newspaper’s social media accounts on Twitter, Facebook and other foreign sites, concluded that “YouTube did not show a bit of respect to our 3,552 subscribers by removing them from our channel without any reasons.” . . . .

Naturally, the People’s Daily took to another blocked social media network, Twitter, to voice its indignation.
As explained, one possible innocuous explanation for the disappearance is that they were simply accounts for artificial users. There was no word on Ren's thoughts about this. The article ends with a question one can only hope Ren will also address.

2. I am in Taiwan at the moment. And Taiwan's status is an especially fascinating topic. So here is some recent news:
Taiwan President-elect Tsai Ing-wen said she will maintain the status quo in the island's relationship with China, but that her policy will be based on democratic principles and transcend party politics, a nuance likely to be lost on Communist Party leaders in Beijing.

3. An article titled "What It’s Like to Live in the World’s Most Polluted Place" isn't about any city in China. Instead, it is about Delhi, the capital of India. But the two sets of photos featured reminded me of similarly polluted scenes I have seen in China. The caption for the tenth photo in the first set especially caught my attention:
A dairy farm sits between a massive construction project and a garbage dump. Livestock are regularly in contact with waste, increasing the risk of contaminated dairy products
I thought back to some questions I recently had after seeing fresh goat milk sold and a goat eating outside in Jieyang, Guangdong.

4. Finally, a story about a composer whose teachers included Edgard Varèse and Bohuslav Martinu shares how 91-year-old Chou Wen-chung doesn't identify himself as a "Chinese composer" even though he grew up in China. Yet he doesn't deny his experiences there have had an influence:
But the sternest teacher of all was war, which swept over Mr. Chou’s native China in 1937, and which, over the next eight years, forced him to flee from one town to the next and often brought him face to face with death. In Shanghai, he practiced Bach and Mozart on the violin to the sound of artillery fire. Later, he trained his hearing as a university student in Guilin, where he learned to identify the flight path of Japanese warplanes by their sound. During a recent interview in his West Village townhouse, Mr. Chou recounted many harrowing war stories.

“This is the kind of thing we don’t want to experience,” he said after describing a traumatic escape from Guilin in 1944, moments before Japanese forces entered the city. “But if you do experience it, use that. We have to learn from life.”

Monday, December 14, 2015

Sick and Tired in Shanghai

young woman in Shanghai wearing a coat with the words "SICK AND TIRED" on its back
Today at Qipu Lu in Shanghai

I had planned to be blogging quite a bit more the past week or so since returning to China. Plans . . .

Unfortunately, last week something decided to wreak havoc on my sinuses and seemingly my brain as well. I wasn't sure whether it was virus-related or pollution-related. I considered the latter since it somewhat reminded me of how my sinuses reacted when I first went running in Shanghai's pollution over a decade ago during a trip from the U.S. And yes, after starting to run again during my recent trip to the U.S., I ran in Shanghai during a couple not-so-great days for air (which is most). Whatever I have, it isn't a run-of-the-mill cold for me, especially in terms of how it ebbs and flows. I think I am over the worst.

On a related note . . . yes, it's best to exercise in clean air. And bad air is, of course, bad. That's straightforward. But the science I've seen on the health impact of exercise when polluted air is the only option seems to be a mixed bag. There's reason to think it might be a net good, at least for some health aspects. But these studies focused on Western-style pollution, so it's unclear how the findings apply to China-style pollution — different in both its content and amount.

I have my personal limits though. For example, once I had gotten myself into an outdoor running routine while in Zhuhai and Hong Kong. But that came to an immediate halt upon arriving in Changsha where I spent a couple of months. That first morning I looked outside the window at the awful air and despondently thought "no way".

I would like to keep up the outdoor running, so next time I may try it with a face mask. It's cold outside, so perhaps the heat the mask traps on my face will be a pleasant bonus. Anyway, soon I will be in parts of China with typically better air quality. Hopefully I'm not killing myself. If I am, there are the words of famed cache clearer Chester Walsh: "Like I always say, you gotta die prematurely of something."

So yeah, as the coat in the photo above proclaims, I've been sick and tired. Come to think of it, that applies to my feelings about China's air too.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

A Non-International View of Zhuhai from Macau

To balance things out with the previous post, here is a view of Zhuhai from Coloane Village in Macau:

view of Zhuhai from Coloane Village in Macau

Once again, I would recommend against swimming from one side to the other.

Air pollution obscures some of the details, but if you look closely at the mountains, you can see wind turbines, which struck me as both hopeful and ironic.

Friday, June 19, 2015

A Brief View From Hong Kong of a Massacre in Charleston

Today as I rode the metro under Hong Kong's streets and buildings, I looked up at a video monitor and unexpectedly saw Barack Obama:

subway car video screen displaying news of a speech by Barack Obama

Sadly, the news was about the recent massacre in far away Charleston, South Carolina — the latest in a long and all-too-regular stream of mass killings in the U.S.

When similar events in the U.S. have come up in discussions I have had with a variety of people in China, I have often heard bewilderment over why the U.S. has been unable to better address gun violence and why the problem even exists to degree it does in the first place. It seems to put a twist in the concept of "American exceptionalism", especially given how the term is now often used in the U.S. On a related note, The Economist concluded an article about the massacre with a thought-provoking comparison:
Those who live in America, or visit it, might do best to regard [the mass killings] the way one regards air pollution in China: an endemic local health hazard which, for deep-rooted cultural, social, economic and political reasons, the country is incapable of addressing. This may, however, be a bit unfair. China seems to be making progress on pollution.
I am still pondering that one.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

A Clearer Day in Changsha

The intersection of Remin West Road and Cai'e South Road on Tuesday, the same day I shared examples of people protecting themselves from the sun on a smoggy day in Changsha:

intersection of Remin West Road and Cai'e South Road in Changsha on a smoggy day

The same intersection on an overcast Friday, which had much lower levels of pollution:

intersection of Remin West Road and Cai'e South Road in Changsha on less polluted day

The pollution was still higher than what would be acceptable in the U.S. for long-term exposure, but it felt like fresh air after recent days. The worst days in Beijing, and sometimes elsewhere, may make for flashier news, but the regularity of days like Tuesday not only in Changsha but many other places as well is a bigger problem for people's health in China.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Umbrellas More Common Than Face Masks on a Rainless and Smoggy Day in Changsha

Similar to what I found earlier this year in Chongqing, one thing that remains mostly the same in Changsha since previous visits is the air pollution. Today was no exception, and Changsha had some of its most polluted air for recent days.

a smoggy view of Furong Middle Road in Changsha

According to U.S. standards, the air quality in terms of a 24 hour exposure to the smallest particles was in the "very unhealthy" category. I saw few people wearing face masks, and those I did see were clearly not the types effective at filtering harmful pollutants.

Despite the smog, the sun at times did its best on a rainless and humid day to reach humanity. So far more than people wearing face masks, I saw people employing commonly used methods in China to avoid tanning.

two young women holding sun umbrellas walking down a street in Changsha

man blocking the sun from his face with a bag

woman holding an umbrella walking by a construction worker in Changsha

woman holding an umbrella at a street intersection in Changsha

Perhaps if these people knew the degree to which heavy smog blocks the radiation that causes tanning, they wouldn't have felt the need to take any extra precautions today.