Every breath you take in Beijing

Yesterday Danwei reported that China's State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) published air pollution statistics for major Chinese cities.

The Beijing pollution rating for December 12, 2006 was a record 500, the maximum score on the scale that SEPA uses. 200 is considered a bad day for Beijing. The primary pollutant on December 12 was described by SEPA as "inhalable particles" (可吸入颗粒物).

Thanks to Blake Stone-Banks, Danwei has found some more specific information on what this means: "Inhalable particles are particulate matter of less than 10 micrometers (microns) in diameter. This is the most prominent form of air pollution in Beijing."

A source at SEPA confirmed that ordinary dust does not register on their air pollution index. The index is a measure of sulphur dioxide (SO2 - a major component of acid rain), nitrous dioxide (NO2 - a combustion-relation poison), and inhalable pollutants that are smaller than 10 microns.

There's more information in English about particulate matter and its effect on your health on an Australian government website.

There are currently 8 Comments for Every breath you take in Beijing.

Comments on Every breath you take in Beijing

Beijing has recorded an API of 500 at least once before, on November 1, 2003. The "inhalable particles" are more commonly known as RSPs, or respirable suspended particulates.

Interestingly, the API in Beijing is only given for the worst pollutant on a given day. Shanghai's Environmental Bureau ( gives numbers for all three tracked pollutants. RSPs, NO2, and SO2. I'm not sure why this is, but it may be that Shanghai has a more complex pollutant mix than Beijing, where RSPs are far and away the most common pollutant.

November 2003 Data from the Chaoyang District Environmental Protection Department:

A correction: The Chinese API does not cover RSPs, but TSPs (total suspended particulates).

The yesterday's air pollution level 5 or 500 microgram of particulate matter (PM10) per cubic meter was not an all time high. Level 5 was reached for the 7th time this year. Thereof 3 times at least 500 mgr/m3. They stop counting above 500. You can check the history of Beijing's air by entering the Beijing and 2006-01-01 to 2006-12-13 at this link:

The Insider’s guide to Beijing once published a statement of a Doctor from the Beijing United Family Hospital saying that you should avoid going outside when 150 mgr/m3 are reached.
Others see it even more critical. E.g., the Australian Department of Environment and the German Ministry of Environment aim for a daily maximum concentration of 50 micrograms of PM10 per cubic metre (level 1). In Germany every city is allowed to exceed this goal only 35 days per year while in Australia apparently only five days. So in Beijing do not look only at the terrible ‘500’-days but count all the days in 2006 when the ‘50’-goal was exceeded: Year to date, there were 347 polluted days in Beijing. Only 25 days where ‘healthy’ days.

Sorry, I have to correct my previous comment: There were 322 polluted day vs. only 25 good days. Together 347 days ytd.

Does anybody know what an individual can do to attempt to protect their health if they live in Beijing? I can't tell everybody to stop driving their cars!

You should try smoking Zhongnanhai 0.8 cigarettes. The herbal blend protects your lungs against pollution, SARS and other dangers.

@Chip. Cyclists’ fume masks are designed to filter out stuff like sulphur and lead oxide. Never seen them sold in China though, you’d probably have to get one online. Other than that, I’d get friendly with a non-smoker on death row, if you know what I mean...

The only place I've seen cyclist masks in the region are in Hong Kong (the Flying Ball bike shop in Cheung Sha Wan).

An API of 500 does not indicate a particulate concentration of 500 micrograms per cubic meter. In Mainland China, An API of 300 indicates a concentration of 625 ug/m^3. I don't have the specific numbers for an API of 500, but it would be fair to assume it would be well over 700 ug/m^3.

For comparison, the Canadian government sets the 24-hour Maximum Tolerable Concentration of TSPs at 400ug/m^3 (

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