Battling Beijing’s Air Pollution

Beijing’s air quality is a serious problem that people are facing everyday. Mass media outlets such as CNN and BBC constantly show videos, pictures, and graphs about how severe the air pollution is – but how much do people actually know about the everyday PM 2.5 level? Take this quick, five question survey before reading the rest of this page to test your knowledge.

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An Introduction To Beijing’s Air Pollution Problem

I currently live in Beijing and face this problem everyday. There is a not a morning where I don’t wake up and check an app that informs me of the air quality so that I can plan my day accordingly. As I’m sure many of you have seen on the news, Beijing’s air pollution problem is not anything recent, in fact, it’s been going on for many years. However, despite this, I personally feel that the awareness and urgency for this hazardous and severe problem is not there. Therefore, I have created this page to inform you all about the causes and effects of Beijing’s air pollution, as well as to develop and present to you all my way to take action. Before you continue, here are a few definitions that will help you to further understand what I will be discussing.

  1. PM 2.5: stands for fine particulate matter and they are tiny particles in the air that reduce visibility and cause the air to appear hazy when levels are elevated. Plus, PM 2.5 is the most detrimental pollutant to one’s health, therefore it is the most important one to pay attention to – if you are concerned about your heath.
  2. AQI: “the air quality index is a number used by government agencies to communicate to the public how polluted the air currently is or how polluted it is forecast to become.” The AQI is specifically used within the United States and not China.
  3. API: the air pollution index is used by the Chinese government. The main difference between the API and the AQI, is that the API doesn’t take into account the PM 2.5 level, while the AQI does. Therefore, many of the recorded levels of pollution by the Chinese government are significantly lower than the United States government’s reading.

*Note: The AQI and the API are equally accurate. The main difference is that the AQI pays attention to people’s health more and records the PM 2.5 level, rather than the API, which does not record the PM 2.5 level.

Earlier in the Comparative Politics course, I created a video that discussed the government in Beijing, as well as the biggest problem that the government is facing: air pollution. Not only will this video give you a deeper understanding of what is being currently done to help the air pollution in Beijing, but this video will also give you a deeper understanding of the political situation in China and why this problem is getting worse.


How is Air Quality Measured and Monitored?

Within Mainland China, China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection is in charge of measuring the air pollution level. As previously mentioned, China uses an API and its recording is based off of six atmospheric pollutants: “sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), suspended particulates smaller than 10 μm in aerodynamic diameter (PM10), suspended particulates smaller than 2.5 μm in aerodynamic diameter (PM2.5), carbon monoxide (CO), and ozone (O3). PM2.5 and PM10 concentrations are measured as an average per 24h. In contrast, SO2, NO2, O3, CO are measured as an average per hour. The final API value is calculated per hour according to a formula published by the MEP.”

Monitoring Air Quality Around The World:

In addition to the video above, people can also monitor air quality in their own homes. Many people in Beijing own air monitors and place them in their cars, their offices, and in rooms around their houses. While this more common for expat families, some local families do this as well because air pollution is such a major concern. The most popular air pollution monitor for households is the Laser Egg. The Laser Egg is about $100 and is extremely popular because of its accurate readings, small size, and portability.

     The Laser Egg is now sold in Apple stores within China:

A close up of the Laser Egg:

Another extremely common way for people to keep up to date with the air quality is through apps. Many different companies have created apps that allow people that live in many regions of China to view the reported level by the US government, the Chinese government, and sometimes even both. It’s very uncommon to see a person without an app that informs that about the air quality on their phone and you see people checking them all the time. The most popular app is Airpocalypse as it is funny and also very accurate

Screenshots from Airpocalypse:


Screenshots from PureSky, an app that takes into both the Chinese government’s recording and the United States government’s recording:


In addition, the Maps and Weather apps on Apple products now report the air quality:


The air quality also decides if students can go outside after school for after-school activities. On my school’s website, there is a chart that decides whether or not students can go. For younger students, the level is much lower than the high school students because the PM 2.5 particles have a much greater impact on young children. For high school students, the PM 2.5 level has to be under 300 in order to go outside and practice. Even if it is over 200 out, many of us still wear masks during practice.

The Causes and Effects of Hazardous Air Quality

Here is a graph that breaks down the different causes of PM 2.5 within Beijing:

There are many districts around Beijing and I specifically live in the Shunyi (顺义)district and the pollution from each of these districts spread all around each other. Also, Beijing is extremely populated and in addition to individuals having cars, there are also many modes of public transport which further pollute the air. In order to regulate this, the government has allowed cars with certain plate numbers to drive on some days and not others. If you were to drive on a day that you are not regulated to, then you will potentially face a fine. Plus, this is another way for the government to try and help control the traffic.

China has also been the world’s largest exporter since 2009 and since 2013, China has also become the largest trading nation in the world. Due to China being such a large exporter, LOTS of goods are produced in China, specifically Beijing, and all of the coal burned in these factories has further contributed the severe air pollution. 

But what effects does this have on our body?

Poor air quality has serious impacts, especially if you’re a baby, infant, have chronic lung or heart disease, or if you are elderly. Some more specific impacts are:

Short term health effects:

  • “Aggravated cardiovascular and respiratory illness
  • Added stress to heart and lungs, which must work harder to supply the body with oxygen
  • Damaged cells in the respiratory system”

Long-term health effects:

  • “Accelerated aging of the lungs
  • Loss of lung capacity
  • Decreased lung function
  • Development of diseases such as asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, and possibly cancer
  • Shortened life span”

Taking Action 

When thinking of the best way to take action, I thought: how can I raise awareness for air pollution through a simple everyday outlet? Shortly after thinking this, I decided that the best way to do this would be to create an Instagram page, as the majority of international students in Beijing use Instagram, so everyday they could check this page and learn more about the air quality. The username for the account is @beijingairupdates ( and I post on it everyday, sometimes even multiple times! Not only do I post air quality updates but I also post information that allows people to understand how they can protect themselves from bad air and monitor in their daily lives.

Here are a few screenshots from my Instagram page:

I hope that over time, people from all areas of the world can follow this account to learn more about air pollution within Beijing as this is a serious issue and people need to have a deeper understanding of it. As I’ve discussed above, air quality in Beijing needs to be talked about more. Many people think that have an understanding of the severity, but in reality, lots of people do not know the specific information and facts that are necessary to raise awareness.

I urge you all to keep learning and raising awareness about air pollution in Beijing, as something needs to be done, and the first step is to educate yourself and others.

Finally, here is a documentary called, “Under the Dome”, that explores and discusses China’s severe pollution problem. If you wish to gain an even deeper understanding, I definitely recommend this documentary!

Under The Dome:

Please let me know if you have any comments and questions in the comment section below and thank you so much for taking the time to read this!

Works Cited

“4.2 Causes And Consequences Of Air Pollution In Beijing, China | Environmental Sciencebites”. Osu.Pb.Unizin.Org, 2017,


“Air Pollution Index(API) In China Vs Air Quality Index(AQI) In America”. Wtienyit, 2017,

“Air Pollution Overview – Berkeley Earth”. Berkeley Earth, 2017,

“Beijing Air Pollution”. South China Morning Post, 2017,

project, The. “Shunyi New Town , Beijing Air Pollution: Real-Time PM2.5 Air Quality Index (AQI)”. Aqicn.Org, 2017,

“Spare The Air: Health Effects Of Air Pollution”. Sparetheair.Com, 2017,

“Under The Dome”, director. 2015,.

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