The heating season in China began on November 15th. On that day, municipalities in central and northern China fired up hundreds of coal-fired boiler facilities. The hot water from those facilities is the source of heat for thousands of buildings. My apartment, for example, has a few bare metal pipes within which flows hot water from a local boiler facility. After the start of this year’s heating season, it didn’t take long for the first death smog to blossom.
Before I went to bed Thursday night, I looked out one of my apartment windows. The lights of nearby buildings were barely visible through the dense white haze. The air pollution had been gathering the prior few days. I knew that when I woke up the next morning, I would be greeted by the season’s first death smog.
My prediction was correct. On Friday morning, the air in Anyang was heavily polluted, a thick white haze of airborne toxicity. I checked the pollution levels for Anyang at AQICN.ORG. Here were yesterday’s readings at 5 a.m.:
By 8 a.m., the air quality had deteriorated further:
The U.S. EPA has set the upper limit of the 24-hour PM 2.5 level at 35 µg/m3. As the above readings show, by 8 a.m. yesterday the level of PM 2.5 had reached 579 µg/m3.
During my afternoon class, I asked one of my students to use her smartphone to check the PM 2.5 level. The phone app. my student uses reported that at 2:30 p.m. the PM 2.5 was 431. While the level had fallen, it was still well above what is safe to breathe. Also, I knew that the level would spike again during late afternoon and evening.
Here’s what AQICN.ORG reported at 9 p.m. Friday evening:
The PM 2.5 was over 5oo again. At 10 p.m., I decided to check readings on PM25S.COM, another website that reports air pollution readings in China. Here’s what PM25S.com reported:
So, by 10 p.m. the PM 2.5 readings ranged from 356 to 568, depending on the monitoring station. PM25S reported that in the previous 24 hours, the PM 2.5 average level was 408. That is almost 12x higher than the US EPA’s upper safety limit for a period of 24 hours. What did the numbers look like this morning at 7 a.m.?
So, this morning the air had worsened a little since I went to bed last night. Forecasters say that the current bout of death smog will last until next Wednesday. Why do I call the bad air “death smog?” Because the polluted air contains microscopic death dealers that infiltrate and accumulate in the body, resulting in premature death for millions of people in China. Some Chinese people say that the severe bouts of air pollution look like a “nuclear winter.” I agree.