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Pollution masks given to outdoor workers in China amid lingering smog

Publication Date : 14-01-2013

 

NGOs distribute protective gear as people urged to stay indoors

Though Beijing has been shrouded in smog containing dangerously high levels of pollutants for several days, prompting authorities to urge the public to stay indoors, some people are hitting the streets to help those in need.

As the stench of coal and automobile exhaust hangs in the air, NGOs are preparing to hand out masks to people who work outside, including street cleaners, traffic wardens and doormen, in cities including Beijing and Tianjin and in Hunan province.

"People working outdoors are vulnerable when they are exposed to pollution, which has soared past dangerous level, with no protective measures," said Feng Yongfeng, an organiser of Green Beagle, an environmental protection NGO in the capital.

"It's urgent that people who work in the heavy smog are well protected, because the air quality has been worsening since Friday."

Environmental protection NGO Greenpeace has about 300 masks and is recruiting volunteers to help deliver them to people exposed to pollution.

Thick fog and haze have shrouded central and northern parts of the country since Friday, and meteorologists said the bad weather is expected to continue until midweek.

Greenpeace said it intends to start distributing the masks on Monday.

"Handing out masks is more to raise public awareness of protecting yourself against the haze, especially street cleaners and security guards," said Wang Jue, a spokeswoman for the organisation.

She said they will distribute more masks if the demand increases.

Greenpeace has prepared booklets and brochures on the hazards of PM2.5 - particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns - and protection against haze, Wang said.

"People should be informed of how to minimise pollution hazards," she said.

Wang Haijun, a sanitation worker in Chaoyang district, said he wears a mask provided by his company every day.

The company gives sanitation workers two masks a month and has emphasised the importance of wearing them when the sky is grey, he said.

"Some of my colleagues don't wear the mask because it's not easy to breath through them, but I know how much pollution will get in my lungs without it," Wang said.

"Some street cleaners, traffic wardens and security guards are not regularly given masks by their employers and are unprotected in the haze," he said. "I'm lucky compared with them."

The Future Green Youth Leadership Council, an environmental protection NGO in Tianjin, said it will start distributing masks to outdoor workers on Monday.

Zhao Liang, the group's founder, said he was not sure how many people working outside they will help with masks but the NGO will do everything possible to reduce vulnerable people's exposure to pollution.

Feng Yongfeng said Green Beagle is considering extending its assistance to the homeless, giving masks to the sick and elderly among them, who are particularly vulnerable to air pollution.

Feng Yuanjian, former director of the homeless shelter in Beijing's Dongcheng district, said government teams step up efforts to collect the homeless on very cold or polluted days.

The shelter will increase the regularity of patrol cars and conduct extra patrols of bridges to either move the homeless to the shelter or give them the equipment they need to survive in extreme weather.

But the shelter distributes mostly clothes and quilts to the homeless, not masks.

"The homeless are not used to wearing a mask," Feng said. "It's necessary to make them realise that a mask is as important as a quilt when the city is shrouded in intense air pollution."

A spokesperson for the capital's civil affairs bureau could not be reached on Sunday.

Businesses are making efforts to minimise the impact of air pollution in the city, giving employees masks and equipping their offices with air purifiers.

Zhang Hua, business development director of Abeinsa, a Spanish engineering company in Beijing, has just ordered an air purifier for the office and masks for employees in the city.

"I wrote a letter to headquarters to ask for an air purifier in our Beijing office after I saw the high index of air pollution on Friday, and the headquarters agreed," he said.

The masks and air purifiers will minimise the hazard, he said.

Ou Hailin contributed to this story.

 

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