Here’s How to Survive Winter Pollution in the ‘Du
Like many of China’s rapidly growing cities, the air quality in Chengdu has continued to deteriorate over the last few years causing concern to both locals and the international community. It now frequently ranks amongst the most polluted major cities in China.
Due partially to increased energy consumption, the Winter tends to bring the highest AQI (Air Quality Index) readings, causing hard-to-ignore damage to both our health and our moods.
Whilst we don’t all have the luxury of escaping the city when it gets bad, we are luckily more equipped than ever to monitor and protect ourselves from pollutants. As awareness increases of the dangers of PM2.5s (small particles believed to be the most damaging to our health), so does the range of products and services that can help – and some are more affordable than you’d think. Here are some tips on how to protect yourself this winter:
1) Know the Air Quality
To get into good habits and make sensible decisions it is important to keep track of the air quality each day.
The easiest way is to download one of the free apps available for both Apple and Android phones that track the pollution levels.
There are many great apps, but we like ‘Air Matters: Global Air Quality & Pollen Data’ as it gives us the local reading and the US Consulate reading – which monitors PM 2.5 particulates in the area surrounding the Lingshiguan Road offices. You can also use the app to compare air quality globally. There are also many websites that can give you up to date PM2.5 readings. If you’re a twitter user, follow @CGChengduAir which regularly tweets pollution updates You can also use the app to compare air quality globally throughout the day.
It is equally important to monitor the air quality in your home and office as this is the air you will be breathing all day. Some air purifiers tell you the air quality of the room, but they can’t tell you the air quality where you’re actually sitting or sleeping, only the air around the purifier. Luckily there are many great standalone Smart monitors available. They can monitor everything from 5s, VOCs, humidity & temperature, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide and cost from 499RMB to upwards of 3000RMB. For simplicity’s sake, we find the Laser Egg by Origins (499RMB at originstech.com) both user friendly and cost efficient. It displays the PM2.5 reading on an LED screen (so there’s no need to check an app like some of the others, although it can also be synced to your phone) and it can be unplugged to measure air quality on the move.
2) Wear A Mask…and make it a good one
All convenience stores and pharmacies now stock masks, but choosing a mask really depends on what you are doing and where you are going – the jargon on the packaging can be a little baffling. Terms like FFP2 and N95 tend to refer to the amount of airborne particles that the mask can remove. European mask standards (EN143 & EN149) will categorise masks into FFP1, FFP2 and FFP3 which remove 80%, 94% and 99% respectively. American standards use a slightly more intuitive system N95, N99 and N100 removing 95%, 99% and 100% of particles.
For day to day use, if you’re walking along busy roads, or the air quality is particularly bad, disposable 3M N95 masks offer good protection, are inexpensive (around 108RMB for 10 masks, available at some 7/ELEVEN and JD.com) and are relatively comfortable. Alternatively, Californian company Vogmask make less industrial fabric masks, which come in a range of fabrics and sizes (also with specialist masks for children) and can be ordered on JD.com for 198- 290RMB offering around 200 hours of protection.
If you are doing cardiovascular activity outdoors and the pollution is bad, wearing a mask is paramount. For cycling or running along main roads or in areas with construction – Respro masks are great and available at Natooke (Xiao Tian East Street 3-26 Wuhou District) where you can also buy Techno filters. Totobobo also make great masks with replaceable filters (available from 200RMB on jd.com) but we found them less comfortable during activities. We are yet to find anything that really allows us to take in enough air during a run.
Whichever mask you choose, and there are hundreds on the market, it’s important to ensure it fits well, and there are not gaps for air leakage, or it is as good as useless.
3) Purify the Air in Your Home & Office
Buy an air purifier:
An air purifier will ma step is to get the right size purifier for your space:
Most purifiers come with a recommended room size (适ke an amazing difference to your home and is almost essential to surviving a winter in Chengdu – there are however numerous options to choose from. The first用面积) in square meters or they mention airflow rate (风机空载风量), often written as CADR, and listed as cubic meters per hour. An effective air purifier should replace the air in your room around 5 times an hour (although this depends on the CADR speed) so to roughly calculate this will multiply the floor space, by the room height, by five.
As the range of air purifiers available ranges widely in price and features offered, the most important thing to look out for is the machine carries a HEPA filter which clearly mentions it eliminates >99% of particles (过滤灰尘/花粉 (0.3 微米)), plus a strong fan speed which reflects in a high airflow/CADR. XiaoMi offer a Smart air purifier that can be turned on by your phone before you get home with different machines for different
sized spaces from 800RMB. Smart Air offer a cost friendly option (although it’s no beauty) for 200RMB which is very effective in smaller spaces (available online or at workshops around Chengdu).Lastly it is also important to keep track if the filters in your purifier need changing or cleaning regularly – some get more efficiant with age and some have a surprisingly small lifespan. Alternatively if you don’t want an air purifier, you can buy an Ionizer which works by creating a charge which makes particles stick together and fall due to their combined weight. Ionizers however are typically more expensive than air purifiers and require some additional maintenance.
Other ways to help purify your home:
There are natural ways to improve the air quality in your home – although none that will be as effective as an air purifier:
There are a number of plants especially good at removing certain toxins (mainly benzene and formaldehyde) from the air: Research released by NASA names Spider Plants (Chlorophytum Comosum), Devil’s Ivy (Epipremnum Aureum), Peace Lily (Spathiphylly, ‘Mauna Loa) and the Variated Snake Plant (Sansevieria trifasciata) as especially good for your home – but be aware it would take 70 spider plants to maintain a medium sized apartment. Beeswax candles and Himalayan Salt lamps can also improve your air quality.
4) Make Good Decisions:
Whilst you can’t do anything to change the air quality outside, you can make good decisions to minimise your exposure to it:
Smoking: This might seem glaringly obvious – but in a city where smoking is so cheap and engrained in both dining and business culture, sitting in a bar without a cigarette might feel like an alien idea. However especially during the polluted winter cutting out smoking is a sure fire way to improve your health.
Avoid Rush Hour: If you travel by bike or on foot, try to avoid busy roads during rush hour. Studies show that choosing to move along side roads, as opposed to dual carriage ways, can make a significant difference to your intake of PM2.5s.
Places like the first and second ring road and Renmin South Road have particularly toxic rush hours between 4-7pm, with 5% more cars on the road than last year. Taking the subway to cut across the city can really minimise your exposure to the pollution.
Exercising: There are conflicting opinions about which AQI level you should stop cardio activity outside. There are also those that believe all exercise is more beneficial than not doing it at all, no matter what the air quality. Whatever view you take, it makes sense to monitor the AQI, time your workouts effectively and use side roads and river paths to avoid direct traffic fumes. The Gym industry expanded massively in 2016 making exercising indoors far easier in Chengdu, although many gyms still do not have air purifiers .
Air pollution’s long term health impacts often build up slowly over time, but even if you’re not in Chengdu for the long run, it’s still not a bad idea to take precautions and make good decisions. Keep these tips in mind this winter to keep the pollution woes at bay!