When air quality levels in the eastern Chinese city of Shanghai reach the government’s definition of “heavily polluted,” government officials recommend that children and the elderly refrain from all physical activity outdoors. Everyone else, they say, should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion.
So Monday probably wasn’t the best day for the Shanghai Marathon, which took place despite air quality levels surpassing “heavily polluted” and — for the first time since the city began monitoring air quality — venturing into “severely polluted” levels.
“The sky was pretty bad,” U.S. citizen Bridget O’Donnell told Bloomberg News, adding that many participants in the race were wearing face masks. “It didn’t really affect me during the race but toward the end of the race I started to feel a little sick. After the race and today my lungs are really hurting.”
Here is a newscast about the pollution from NHK, Japan’s public broadcaster:
The city’s Air Quality Index (AQI) exceeded 300 as of 1:41 p.m., placing it in the “severe” range — the highest of six levels, the Shanghai Environmental Monitoring Center said on its website Monday. The AQI measures the density of PM2.5, which is defined by the EPA as particle matter that is less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter. According to the EPA, PM2.5 is produced “chiefly by combustion processes and by atmospheric reactions of various gaseous pollutants,” and includes emissions from “motor vehicles, power generation, combustion sources at industrial facilities, and residential fuel burning.” PM2.5 has a “profound” effect on humans, and has been associated with health issues including premature mortality, increased respiratory symptoms and illnesses, and reduced lung function. Anyone visiting the website on Monday would have seen a cartoon picture of a little girl crying (bottom right in the image above), indicative of the severity of the pollution.
On Monday, PM2.5 density in Shanghai was almost four times the nation’s limit of 75 micrograms per cubic meter, clocking in at approximately 280 micrograms per cubic meter overnight until 9 a.m., according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
Both air and water pollution is a real problem for China’s 1.35 billion residents, who many of whom do not have access to safe drinking water. 57 percent of urban groundwater, a primary source of drinking water in the country, is polluted. Coal industries and power stations use as much as 17 percent of China’s water, and by 2020 the government plans to boost coal-fired power by twice the total generating capacity of India. According to British Petroleum (BP), China will account for 25 percent of global growth in energy demand through 2030. China’s 2012 energy mix was comprised of 68 percent coal, 18 percent oil and five percent natural gas.
An eight-year-old Chinese girl was diagnosed with lung cancer due to air pollution in early November, and a recent study found that severe pollution is slashing an average of five-and-a-half years from the life expectancy in northern China.