Now this doesn't make me feel all that great....

As mentioned recently, the skies have been ocher in Beijing these last few days. Thanks to a tech source I've recently discovered, I now know that the conditions are actually way more dangerous than I thought. Gee, great.

The official Chinese government air pollution readings, found most conveniently in the right hand column here, give daily average air-quality info for many big Chinese cities. The main pollutant measured in these figures is -- to the best of my understanding -- "PM 10," which covers relatively "large" particulate matter. These are particles of up to 10 micrometers in diameter, including some large enough to darken the air and what would normally be called "dust."

What the Chinese authorities don't seem to report routinely is PM2.5. These are very fine particles, of up to 2.5 microns in diameter, which may not darken the air but are more dangerous to the lungs, precisely because they don't get filtered out in the nose or throat and instead get down deep into the alveoli. The US EPA does feature PM2.5 in its particulate measures of US air quality -- for instance, the real-time map here.

None of this is new, including the PM10 / PM2.5 omission in Chinese monitoring. What is new to me is that an unofficial monitoring station in Beijing puts out, via Twitter, hourly measures of PM2.5 readings. And after checking out the readings for earlier today I say...   gacckkk, ccougghhhhh, haccckkkk.... In the columns below we have: date and time; PM2.5 reading for that time; Air Quality Index on the US scale (321 in the first one); air quality classification on US scale; and average figures for the day.


Note that the US classification system, here, does not even allow for readings above the 300 range, which it lumps together as "hazardous." As I check the real-time map just now, virtually every reporting city in the US has an AQI reading below 50 ("good"), and one or two miscreants are around 70. The reading through most of today where I live has been above 300. Hmmmmm.

Action plan for me: I decided to skip going to the gym for a breathe-hard workout today. Action plan for US and China: no joke, working on environmental, climate, and energy matters is the most important thing that will happen during this new U.S. Administration. More on this front when I catch my breath.
Note: to avoid causing problems for some people inside China, I have slightly changed this posting from an earlier version. Anyone who notices the difference, please keep it to yourself.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

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