Last summer, we reported on a Twitter account operated from the U.S. embassy in Beijing (@BeijingAir) which tweets hourly reports on the air quality levels in Beijing. We noted in our report that the Chinese government was hoping to get the account shut down and, while it is still up and running at the time of writing this, a cursory glance at any of its tweets makes it easy to see why. The pollutant levels are almost always deemed “Hazardous,” and at certain times, the quality is pushed into the category “Beyond Index,” which, to me, is utterly terrifying.
This week, the AP reported extensively on the worsening air quality in Beijing and northern China in general, where thick blankets of hazardous smog got so bad this week that airports were forced to cancel flights due to poor visibility, and 103 factories were also temporarily shut down by the Beijing government to prevent further pollution of the air. Hospitals saw a 30% increase in patients seeking treatment for respiratory issues over the past month. In some areas, visibility in the streets was less than 100 meters, causing landmarks and skyscrapers to disappear behind the curtain of fog.
The U.S. embassy Twitter account monitors PM2.5, a fine particle pollution of less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, and posted an hourly high of 526 micrograms per cubic meter, which is more than 20 times higher than the maxim set by World Health Organization safety levels. Even the figure reported by the Beijing city government (which consistently reports levels lower than those reported by @BeijingAir) for the same hour block was 433 micrograms per cubic meter, still considered highly dangerous by the WHO. A poll created by Chinese real estate mogul Pan Shiyi calling for a Chinese Clean Air Act to deal with some of these issues and prevent the situation from worsening even further received over 32,000 affirmative votes in under 10 hours.