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Chinese not taking air pollution lightly
Publication Date : 27-09-2013
The air quality in Beijing has been fairly acceptable this month.
With the exception of September 12 when the Air Quality Index was recorded at above 200, the metropolis witnessed consecutive clear blue skies with little hint of smog.
But the Beijingers are not taking the pleasant condition lightly, knowing that the polluted air could return anytime.
PM2.5, referring to the air pollutants with a diametre of less than 2.5 micrometres, remains a popular term.
The fine particles in the air, which measure one-thirtieth of a human hair, can penetrate into our lungs.
A travel company uses “PM2.5” in its advertisement to persuade city folk to leave Beijing for a vacation.
A facial product company claims its devices can free the users’ pores of the minute particles. Plants are also packaged as the enemy of PM2.5.
And then, of course, there is a wide range of face masks and air purifiers that boast of their ability to shield users from the dangerous particles.
On Taobao, China’s biggest e-commerce site, air purifiers can fetch up to thousands of yuan.
The product descriptions are accompanied by colourful photos and graphics of how the machines trap the harmful particles in the air with its filters.
A special committee for air purifiers was even set up under the China Household Electrical Appliances Association (Cheaa) in April to work towards the healthy development of the industry.
Having been bombarded by advertisements of various brands and models, consumers share a common dilemma: which is the best product?
Thomas Talhelm, a Fullbright scholar who is currently residing in Beijing, reached a conclusion following his quest to find the right air purifier – a DIY unit works just as fine.
He purchased a small fan and a sheet of high-efficiency particulate air (Hepa) filter from the Internet, and assembled an air purifier.
On his website (particlecounting.tumblr.com), Talhelm proved the effectiveness of his homemade unit with an air quality monitor.
With the makeshift air purifier switched on for a stretch of eight hours, the PM2.5 count dropped from more than 200 to below 50 micrograms per 0.01 cubic feet.
The most attractive feature of Talhelm’s DIY air purifier is the cost.
Both the fan and the Hepa filter cost him just 166 yuan (US$27.12).
People who have followed Talhelm’s instructions shared photos of how their Hepa filters turned black after several days of use.
On his website, Talhelm emphasised that he is not an expert on air pollution, but a person who is concerned about the air he breathes.
“When consumers don’t know how to assess the products we buy, we often use price to tell us whether the product is good.
“I’m convinced that you can breathe safe air in China for far less than filter companies want you to believe,” he wrote.
The demand for air purifiers is spurred by a desperate need for clean air.
Cheaa, quoting the Building Services Research and Information Association, said three million air purification units were sold in 2012, an increase of 50 per cent compared to 2011.
The Chinese government, too, recognises the urgency and has just introduced an action plan to tackle the air pollution.
The state’s plan, known as the Airborne Pollution Prevention and Control Action Plan 2013–2017, aims to reduce the density of breathable suspended particles in cities by 10 per cent by 2017.
To achieve that, the government promised to cut down the sources of air pollution, such as old cars and coal-fire boilers, decrease coal consumption to under 65 per cent by 2017 and limit the number of cars in big cities, among others.
Echoing the national plan was the Beijing five-year plan. Unveiled in detail on Monday, the plan targets to bring down the concentration of breathable suspended particles by more than 25 per cent.
Among the list of prevention and control measures was a promise to increase efforts to make the city green.
The Beijing government targets to have more than 60 per cent of green space in the city and increase water body to 1000-hectares by 2017.
*The views expressed are entirely the writer's own.