It's that time of year again. For those of you overseas, winter is typically the season with the worst pollution levels in China. Why?
The main culprits are coal, Christmas, and cars. Much of China still uses coal-fired heating. The frigid north, where temperatures can plunge to minus 30 celsius, feels the brunt of this antiquated method of temperature control. Second, the Christmas season thousands of miles away means increased production in China's factories to meet demand. That equals higher output of pollutants. Lastly, people are less likely to take a leisurely bike ride when the weather is chilly. They opt, instead, for our favorite polluter - the car.
This year, Beijing has passed a number of national and regional regulations to curb the winter smog-pocalypse.
For those of us here in China, it's always a good idea to have a quick refresher on how to keep ourselves safe during this time of year. Pollution is no laughing matter. It's been linked to increased levels of cancer and decreased life expectancies. Even in greener places like Shanghai and Shenzhen, pollution can creep in unexpectedly. So, listen up!
Invest in a good mask
That cute face cover with Hello Kitty on it you got at the fruit vendor? Throw it out. There are so many masks out on the market, but what you need is a filtration device. A good example is the 3M-N95 mask. This filters out harmful PM2.5s and PM10s. Remember, though, you need to change the filter! A good rule of thumb is once for every eight wears.
If you're going to invest in a mask (and you should!), wear it the right way. Having your nose hanging over the top means you're just breathing in the pollution. It needs to securely cover both your mouth and nose. Guys, this means a beard pretty much makes wearing a mask obsolete.
Oh, and one more thing. I can't tell you how many times I've seen someone wearing a face mask on polluted days, only to take it off to smoke. Public service announcement - smoking kills. Don't be a walking oxymoron.
If you read this far, you're already well on your way to becoming a pollution expert. But, it's important to know what pollution is and what it isn't. If you haven't yet, download any of the real-time air quality monitors available for your smartphone. They'll let you know if you're looking at pollution, or just a bit of winter cloud cover.
Keeping these three simple rules in mind could spell the difference between a pleasant winter in China, or one that literally takes your breath away.