Beijing’s pollution isn’t good for your kids’ health – so how to minimise the risk? We talk to two experts...
Effects of air pollution can be reduced in a number of ways. For a start, limit time spent outside on polluted days. People who are more sensitive to certain air pollutants present in the air – children under the age of five are especially at risk – should avoid going out on a polluted day. But if your children have to be outdoors, tell them to reduce the activity level or the volume of air-exchange in their lungs.
Wearing a well-fitted face mask before going out is also recommended. The N95 masks from 3M or the Totobobo masks (www.totobobo.com) are most effective in filtering out air pollutants. The latter has an especially good fit for children. Since 90 percent of our time is spent indoors, invest in a good air-filtration system for the home. High Efficiency Particulate Arresting (HEPA) filters are effective and commonly used, they can filter up to 99 percent of the air. Furthermore, it is important to find a balance between ‘airing’ the room on good air quality days, and turning on the purifiers and keeping the doors and windows closed on more polluted days.
Short-term effects of air pollution that can be caused by prolonged exposure to polluted air include bronchitis, pharyngitis, pneumonia, allergies, conjunctivitis, headaches and aggravation of pre-existing lung or heart diseases. These symptoms can go away with medication or a period of breathing clean air. But there are also long-term effects that need more research, such as an increase in heart and lung diseases, and possible links to cancer.
Indoor air can be as bad as outdoor air. This is because today’s homes are built to be highly efficient, tightly sealed spaces that continuously circulate the same air. Without proper ventilation and filtration, pollutants build up in the air that we breathe. Household cleaning agents, mould, cooking, dust mites, skin flakes from household pets, or formaldehyde from newly constructed/renovated buildings can all contribute to indoor pollution.
Unfortunately, opening windows to circulate air is not always an option in Beijing. Other than identifying the source of the pollution and eliminating it as much as possible, there are some steps that you can take to improve the air quality indoors. Natural indoor air-purifying plants (money plant, snake plant, golden palm) are quite easily available in Beijing, although you will need at least five plants for each person in the house.
The other option is to purchase an air purifier. Aim for a unit that can achieve at least three-to-six air changes per hour, but also pay attention to the fan speed that corresponds to the air-change rate. The rule of thumb is: if you cannot hear the unit, it is not filtering enough air. HEPA filters should maintain 99.97 percent efficiency for the life of the filter – not decreased efficiency over the time of usage. Other than focusing just on the type of filter, also pay attention to the air-purifying unit as a whole – if the filter does not fit snugly on the body unit, it allows for ‘air-bypass’ and the total system efficiency may just be 50 percent.
Hui Sun is a senior manager at air filter company IQ Air China.