In this article, published in October 2017 on HuffPost India, Prof. McNeill and Dr. Julia Nunes break down the data for particulate air pollution in cities across India. Air pollution is at an unhealthy level for a large part of the year, in most Indian cities.
The pie charts show the number of days in the past year that the average PM2.5 level fell into the following three categories: Green days (PM2.5 < 35.4 μg m-3) are healthy or moderate, yellow days (35.5 μg m-3 to 55.4 μg m-3) are unhealthy for sensitive groups such as children, the elderly or those with lung disease, and red days (PM2.5 > 55.5 μg m-3) are unhealthy for all. For more information on the data sources: http://outreach.mcneill-lab.org/india-aq-2016-2017/
V. Faye McNeill, Beijing, China, December 21, 2016
Much of China, including the capital city, Beijing, is experiencing sustained heavy smog this week, with air pollution at hazardous levels for the past three days. Concentrations of fine particulate matter in Beijing’s air today exceeded 400 ug/m3, more than ten times China’s National Ambient Air Quality Standard (35 ug/m3). The episode has caused an increase in hospitalizations and disruptions in air traffic due to poor visibility. The government has declared a “red alert” and taken emergency measures including industrial shutdowns, odd-even traffic restrictions, and school cancellations to protect public health.
“I love Beijing. I grew up here and spent my whole life here. If it weren’t for the air pollution, I would love living here. But now I think about leaving. Many people are leaving.”
Air quality is an ongoing issue in Beijing, and a major subject of concern for its residents. As one Beijing native told me: “I love Beijing. I grew up here and spent my whole life here. If it weren’t for the air pollution, I would love living here. But now I think about leaving. Many people are leaving.” According to the U.S. Embassy, between 2008-2015, the daily average air quality index in Beijing fell in the “Unhealthy,” “Very Unhealthy,” or “Hazardous” categories 67% of the time. A severe air quality episode in January 2013 was somewhat of a turning point, leading to increased pressure on the government to tighten regulations. One outcome was the amendment of the national ambient air quality standards. Meeting the new standards for PM2.5 would be a major step towards protecting public health. But, as episodes like this one show, improvement is slow to come. Plans for local implementation and enforcement of the new air quality standards are still in the development stages. In some cases major changes in infrastructure are needed in order to reduce emissions, and this can take time. Local efforts alone won’t be enough: The city of Beijing has made bold moves towards eliminating coal burning within the city, but much of Beijing’s pollution comes from upwind sources, outside the city limits.
With the will of government and the people aligned, China is poised to turn around its air pollution problem. Unlike the U.S., which greatly improved its air quality in the last century and now must tackle climate, China is in a position to develop smart new policies and technology to improve air quality and reduce carbon emissions simultaneously.
Scientists and educators from NASA and UCAR have written a storybook entitled “What’s Up in the Atmosphere? Exploring Colors in the Sky” aimed at elementary school-aged (K-4) children, in which atmospheric aerosols play a starring role. The story follows a group of curious students who, under the guidance of their teacher, investigate the connection between the appearance of the sky and asthma symptoms in their fellow students on a given day. The students in the story (and the readers) learn about atmospheric aerosols in the process. The storybook includes a teachers’ guide with glossary.
The AIRE team spends a few weeks every year visiting family in Manila, Philippines. Like many vibrant megacities, Manila suffers from heavy traffic and poor air quality. Starting in Summer 2015, the Philippine government has made real-time air quality monitoring data available from stations around Metro Manila. Interested citizens can look up current PM2.5 levels and compare them to the 24 hour guideline value. We note that the EMB 24 hr guideline value is 75 micrograms/m3, whereas the United States EPA 24-hour average PM2.5 standard is 35 micrograms/m3 (the yearly average standard is 15 micrograms/m3).
These materials were developed by Profs. Pratim Biswas, of Washington University St. Louis, and C. Y. Wu, of University of Florida, through a collaborative grant from the National Science Foundation. The modules are aimed at an introductory college level, and are excellent for supplementing course materials or learning on your own.