Air-pocalypse

AQI.  Three seemingly innocent letters, which, in combination, meant absolutely nothing to me six short months ago.  Now, however, these three letters – or rather, their associated meaning – are on my mind daily.

AQI = AIR QUALITY INDEX

ImageFor those of you who don’t know what “Air Quality Index” means, or even is – and trust me, I was once one of those people – here’s a quick explanation.

 The “Air Quality Index” is basically a measurement for how clean the air in your natural environment is, at any given time, based on the number of pollutants that may be floating around.  There is a lot of science that goes into these readings, and how pollutants are actually measured, but the basic information is this – the lower the AQI reading, the BETTER the air quality.

A great explanation of what it all means can be found on the “Ontario: Ministry of the Environment” webpage, which is where the following information was taken directly from:

 “Here’s what the readings mean:

  • If the AQI reading is below 16, the air quality is in the very good category.
  • If the AQI reading is in the range of 16 to 31, the air quality is in the good category.
  • If the AQI reading is in the range of 32 to 49, the air quality is in the moderate category, and there may be some adverse effects for very sensitive people.
  • If the AQI reading is in the range of 50 to 99, the air quality is in the poor category, and may have adverse effects for sensitive members of human and animal populations, and may cause significant damage to vegetation and property.
  • If the AQI reading is above 99, the air quality is in the very poor category, and may have adverse effects for a large proportion of those exposed.”

http://www.airqualityontario.com/science/aqi_description.php

 The good news for you, reading this back in North America, is that most Canadian cities don’t even report AQI readings, because they are so low, or even non-existent. A “high” reading in North America may read somewhere between 20-50.

 The bad news for us here in China, is that MOST days, the AQI here is above 150.  And we live in a relatively “clean” city! Everyday, I check the AQI, because at 200 or above, my kids can’t go outside to play, we have to wear masks on our walk to work, we can’t head to the gym for fear of breathing in more toxic waste than necessary, and the air purifiers are on full force.

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The REALLY bad news is that lately, we have been experiencing what is “jokingly” referred to as an “Air-pocalypse”, with daily AQI readings between 200-500, for days on end.

At this level, it is often hard to see the buildings across the street through all the haze.  A perfectly sunny day is literally overshadowed by the haze and smog that engulfs the city.  Everything is eerily orange and lacking clarity or colour.  It honestly feels like the end of the world.

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Have you ever seen the movie “Wall-E”?  It’s not just a cartoon, people, it’s our reality.  On really bad days, I have honestly found myself believing that the smog will never clear, and another plane will never fly out of this city, and we will be stuck here forever.  But, just when I think I’m going to fall into a smoggy pit of despair, the winds come, blowing away the smog and my panic.

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I never once worried about the “Air Quality Index” before moving to China, but now, I check it every day.

If you’re interested in checking out our AQI, or the AQI of your city, the following website is updated hourly:

 http://aqicn.org/city/qingdao/

Take a deep breath people – and be thankful for CLEAN, FRESH, Canadian air today! 

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