Take my breath away: Beijing’s record smog

It’s no secret Beijing’s air pollution recently hit record highs, now how can you better protect your health?

On the Saturday morning of January 12th, Beijing residents awoke to an unwelcome gift in the new year with a dense fog and acrid taste in the air caused not so much by dreary weather conditions, but by a record-breaking day of extraordinary air pollution. Whilst well known for its poor air quality, that Saturday was exceptionally bad, as measurements and ratings of particulate matter soared “beyond index” to levels as high as 755, well above the hazardous threshold of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Air Quality Index (AQI), and clearly shown in a photo gallery compiled by the Los Angeles Times.

Whilst Chinese government officials assert that measures are being taken to curb such incredible pollution as soon as possible, any real progress will take decades to achieve, as evidenced by the fact that the city of Los Angeles on the west coast of the US continues to fail to meet the country’s federal air quality standards despite 60 years of concerted efforts to do so.

This then begs the question already frequently asked by many of One World Cover’s clients in Beijing: What can I do in the meantime to better protect my health from air pollution?

Monitor air pollution readings on a daily basis
Before you head off to work or go run errands outside each day, the first step in ensuring that you are well prepared to protect yourself from the most hazardous particles in Beijing’s air is to check the city’s AQI, a scale developed and recently revised by the EPA and used for measuring and rating the amount of particulate matter in the air. The most accurate hourly readings can be found on the US Embassy’s website for Beijing, China, and you may follow a Twitter account that has also been created with the username @BeijingAir.

In addition, an abundance of smartphone applications have been created for quick access to these readings, and certain apps can also display side-by-side comparisons of readings by the US and Chinese governments.

Halloween in winter

Although dressing like Bane from the latest Batman movie may not be the friendliest look in the world, the most effective way to protect yourself when outside in Beijing’s polluted air is to wear a face mask. Here are some key aspects to consider before purchasing your mask:

Filter standards

The most important factor when buying a face mask is the quality of the mask’s filter. It is especially crucial that the mask protects you from inhaling the most hazardous of particulate matter, those of which are tiny particles less than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5) in diameter and smaller. Approximately the size of 1/30th of a human hair, these particles can deeply penetrate the lungs and enter the bloodstream, leading to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, acute and chronic respiratory conditions. and even lung cancer. It is recommended that you purchase combination filters that have the capacity to block both gases and vapors as well as the more dangerous particulate matter.

Note there are both European and US standards applied to respirator masks, both of which use rather confusing technical terms. Essentially these terms refer to the percentage of airborne particles that can be filtered by the mask. For instance, high-numbered masks like the European FFP3 or American N100 provide the greatest level of protection from particulate matter.

Fit and style

As you will likely be wearing the mask on a near-daily basis during certain months of the year in Beijing, it goes without saying the mask should be both comfortable and well fitting, without leaving any gaps where unfiltered air may be allowed to sneak through. You should consider your daily activities when buying a mask, as some may limit breathing capacity, and a tight fit may be ensured with an adjustable mask that can be custom fitted, or one equipped with an aluminum clip over the nose.

Cost and replacement *

3M manufactures the most reliable masks for single use, and cost approximately Rmb230 for a box of 10 masks. Meanwhile, reusable and washable masks are more advantageous as only the filters need to be replaced on a regular basis, usually when discolored or at bi-weekly intervals. Two popular brands of these types of masks are Respro and Totobobo. Respro filters tend to last longer for at least one month, however are the more expensive option with prices ranging between Rmb140 and Rmb400. A variety of masks are produced by Respro and may be purchased from Rmb240 to Rmb370. Totobobo masks, on the other hand, cost roughly Rmb155, with filters ranging in price from Rmb120 to Rmb175 depending on the filtration capacity.

Needless to say any masks that may be purchased on a street corner or in your nearby convenience store are entirely inefficient for filtering harmful particles in the air, as are surgical masks. Proper masks capable of filtering 95% of airborne particulate matter can often be found in local hospitals, medical clinics and pharmacies. Perhaps the simplest solution is to order in bulk online, which can be done through the websites of Respro and Totobobo offering delivery in China.

Exercise safely
Air pollution is increasingly on the minds of many athletes, especially those with outdoor workouts. Should you stop exercising outdoors altogether? Studies have shown that athletes typically take in 10 to 20 times as much air as sedentary people do. Given what can be in the air, “people who exercise outdoors should probably be more worried” than many are, so said Dr. Morton Lippmann, a professor of environmental medicine at the New York University School of Medicine.

To limit the effects of air pollution and exercise:

Time your workouts carefully
Avoid outdoor activity when pollution levels tend to be highest, which is often midday or afternoon. Exercising during rush hour also can expose you to higher amounts of pollution.

Avoid high-pollution areas
Exercise indoors
Vary your routine with occasional indoor activities, especially on poor air quality days.

One interesting trend in Beijing recently, at international schools including International School of Beijing (ISB) and Dulwich College Beijing, has been the construction of huge “clean air domes” so that previous outdoor playing and exercise areas are now indoor.

One prominent Beijing doctor recently suggested on his blog that if he were “choosing a school for my child, and School A and School B’s major academic criteria were equal, environmental programs such as action plans and indoor recreational domes could definitely be my deciding factors. I think this could actually be a serious promotional advantage for a school in areas similar to Beijing, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to start seeing a competition between schools as to who can offer the cleanest air and the fewest skipped days of outdoor recess.” This same doctor was invited to deliver a speech at ISB’s opening ceremony for their dome-encased fitness and tennis center and was “blown away by its sheer scale and technical specs”. It will be interesting to see if other public exercise areas follow suit.

Get covered, get checked

Finally, the most crucial step you can take to ensure the ongoing protection of your health and the health of your loved ones is to obtain reliable international medical insurance cover in China, preferably with the inclusion of a wellness benefit to supplement expenses for annual medical check-ups for you and your family. By visiting your regular medical clinic and family doctor each year, you may be able to catch the symptoms of cardiovascular disease, acute and chronic respiratory conditions, and lung cancer that can be caused by air pollution over time. In doing so, you significantly improve your chances of combating such severe illnesses, receive proper medical treatment, and gain a better understanding of how to lead a more healthy lifestyle despite your polluted environment.

Of course One World Cover’s expert, personal consultants are on hand to assist you in making the right decision on your health insurance, and purchasing a plan that provides cover for routine physical exams each year for yourself and your family. For your quick reference, the following plan designs from our most popular international insurers for individuals and families offer wellness benefits covering routine adult physical exams and well child tests on an annual basis, with direct billing available at high-end, international medical clinics in China:

It s no secret Beijing s air pollution recently hit record highs, now how can you better protect your health?

On the Saturday morning of January 12th, Beijing residents awoke to an unwelcome gift in the new year with a dense fog and acrid taste in the air caused not so much by dreary weather conditions, but by a record-breaking day of extraordinary air pollution. Whilst well known for its poor air quality, that Saturday was exceptionally bad, as measurements and ratings of particulate matter soared beyond index to levels as high as 755, well above the hazardous threshold of the US Environmental Protection Agency s (EPA) Air Quality Index (AQI), and clearly shown in a photo gallery compiled by the Los Angeles Times.

Whilst Chinese government officials assert that measures are being taken to curb such incredible pollution as soon as possible, any real progress will take decades to achieve, as evidenced by the fact that the city of Los Angeles on the west coast of the US continues to fail to meet the country s federal air quality standards despite 60 years of concerted efforts to do so.

This then begs the question already frequently asked by many of One World Cover s clients in Beijing: What can I do in the meantime to better protect my health from air pollution?

Monitor air pollution readings on a daily basis

Before you head off to work or go run errands outside each day, the first step in ensuring that you are well prepared to protect yourself from the most hazardous particles in Beijing s air is to check the city s AQI, a scale developed and recently revised by the EPA and used for measuring and rating the amount of particulate matter in the air. The most accurate hourly readings can be found on the US Embassy s website for Beijing, China, and you may follow a Twitter account that has also been created with the username @BeijingAir.

In addition, an abundance of smartphone applications have been created for quick access to these readings, and certain apps can also display side-by-side comparisons of readings by the US and Chinese governments.

Halloween in winter

Although dressing like Bane from the latest Batman movie may not be the friendliest look in the world, the most effective way to protect yourself when outside in Beijing s polluted air is to wear a face mask. Here are some key aspects to consider before purchasing your mask:

Filter standards

The most important factor when buying a face mask is the quality of the mask s filter. It is especially crucial that the mask protects you from inhaling the most hazardous of particulate matter, those of which are tiny particles less than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5) in diameter and smaller. Approximately the size of 1/30th of a human hair, these particles can deeply penetrate the lungs and enter the bloodstream, leading to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, acute and chronic respiratory conditions. and even lung cancer. It is recommended that you purchase combination filters that have the capacity to block both gases and vapors as well as the more dangerous particulate matter.

Note there are both European and US standards applied to respirator masks, both of which use rather confusing technical terms. Essentially these terms refer to the percentage of airborne particles that can be filtered by the mask. For instance, high-numbered masks like the European FFP3 or American N100 provide the greatest level of protection from particulate matter.

Fit and style

As you will likely be wearing the mask on a near-daily basis during certain months of the year in Beijing, it goes without saying the mask should be both comfortable and well fitting, without leaving any gaps where unfiltered air may be allowed to sneak through. You should consider your daily activities when buying a mask, as some may limit breathing capacity, and a tight fit may be ensured with an adjustable mask that can be custom fitted, or one equipped with an aluminum clip over the nose.

Cost and replacement *

3M manufactures the most reliable masks for single use, and cost approximately Rmb230 for a box of 10 masks. Meanwhile, reusable and washable masks are more advantageous as only the filters need to be replaced on a regular basis, usually when discolored or at bi-weekly intervals. Two popular brands of these types of masks are Respro and Totobobo. Respro filters tend to last longer for at least one month, however are the more expensive option with prices ranging between Rmb140 and Rmb400. A variety of masks are produced by Respro and may be purchased from Rmb240 to Rmb370. Totobobo masks, on the other hand, cost roughly Rmb155, with filters ranging in price from Rmb120 to Rmb175 depending on the filtration capacity.

Needless to say any masks that may be purchased on a street corner or in your nearby convenience store are entirely inefficient for filtering harmful particles in the air, as are surgical masks. Proper masks capable of filtering 95% of airborne particulate matter can often be found in local hospitals, medical clinics and pharmacies. Perhaps the simplest solution is to order in bulk online, which can be done through the websites of Respro and Totobobo offering delivery in China.

Exercise safely

Air pollution is increasingly on the minds of many athletes, especially those with outdoor workouts. Should you stop exercising outdoors altogether? Studies have shown that athletes typically take in 10 to 20 times as much air as sedentary people do. Given what can be in the air, “people who exercise outdoors should probably be more worried” than many are, so said Dr. Morton Lippmann, a professor of environmental medicine at the New York University School of Medicine.

To limit the effects of air pollution and exercise:

Time your workouts carefully
Avoid outdoor activity when pollution levels tend to be highest, which is often midday or afternoon. Exercising during rush hour also can expose you to higher amounts of pollution.

Avoid high-pollution areas
Exercise indoors
Vary your routine with occasional indoor activities, especially on poor air quality days.

One interesting trend in Beijing recently, at international schools including International School of Beijing (ISB) and Dulwich College Beijing, has been the construction of huge “clean air domes” so that previous outdoor playing and exercise areas are now indoor.

One prominent Beijing doctor recently suggested on his blog that if he were “choosing a school for my child, and School A and School B s major academic criteria were equal, environmental programs such as action plans and indoor recreational domes could definitely be my deciding factors. I think this could actually be a serious promotional advantage for a school in areas similar to Beijing, and I wouldn t be surprised at all to start seeing a competition between schools as to who can offer the cleanest air and the fewest skipped days of outdoor recess.” This same doctor was invited to deliver a speech at ISB s opening ceremony for their dome-encased fitness and tennis center and was “blown away by its sheer scale and technical specs”. It will be interesting to see if other public exercise areas follow suit.

Get covered, get checked

Finally, the most crucial step you can take to ensure the ongoing protection of your health and the health of your loved ones is to obtain reliable international medical insurance cover in China, preferably with the inclusion of a wellness benefit to supplement expenses for annual medical check-ups for you and your family. By visiting your regular medical clinic and family doctor each year, you may be able to catch the symptoms of cardiovascular disease, acute and chronic respiratory conditions, and lung cancer that can be caused by air pollution over time. In doing so, you significantly improve your chances of combating such severe illnesses, receive proper medical treatment, and gain a better understanding of how to lead a more healthy lifestyle despite your polluted environment.

Of course One World Cover’s expert, personal consultants are on hand to assist you in making the right decision on your health insurance, and purchasing a plan that provides cover for routine physical exams each year for yourself and your family. For your quick reference, the following plan designs from our most popular international insurers for individuals and families offer wellness benefits covering routine adult physical exams and well child tests on an annual basis, with direct billing available at high-end, international medical clinics in China.