Air Pollution Guide

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Air Pollution Guide

Air Pollution Survival Guide

污染生存指南- 中文版

Hi. I'm Peggy Liu, Chairperson of JUCCCE.

Yes, that's me with my lace pollution mask on from "I Can Breathe".

As the head of an environmental organization, I am interviewed in China and global press constantly about environmental issues of all sorts. Nowadays air pollution is, by far, the #1 question I get asked.

As a mother, I'm dismayed that I have to check the air quality index app on my phone every day to see whether my children can go outside to play without a pollution mask.

Smog levels are at their worst in the last 50 years. Yet most pedestrians are not wearing pollution masks and most school classrooms do not have air filters. In fact, air pollution is a top health concern in China. Especially for the young and old, or those with weak hearts and lungs. 

So JUCCCE is bringing you our top tips to protect you and your loved ones here in this Air Pollution Survival Guide. Our tips are gleaned from regular talks with experts on pollution, including Kings College, University of Minnesota, Thermo Fisher (makers of the industrial level air quality monitors used by China EPA), cancer expert Dr. David Agus, Clean Air of London, City of London.

We've also teamed up with ARMA.TV,, and The 100 Million Campaign to provide free N95 pollution masks in Shanghai.


Learn how you can get your free N95 pollution mask in Shanghai at the bottom of this page (quantities limited!).


Let’s get real about the cost of air pollution

  • Life spans shortened by years
  • Flights delayed by hours
  • Schools closed for days
  • Hospitals overcrowding
  • Sports events cancelled
  • Ground traffic snarled
  • Construction stopped

Some basic knowledge about air pollution

(Central Shanghai. Image credit: JUCCCE)  (Central Shanghai. Image credit: JUCCCE)

(Central Shanghai. Image credit: JUCCCE)


It’s smog. Not fog. And it's your enemy.

  • Pollution leads to chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma, and the dreaded "China cough".
  • It is an inflammatory and can exacerbate heart disease.
  • It causes cancer, even at an early age. In October 2013 The International Agency for Research on Cancer, an arm of the World Health Organization came out with a report that classified all outdoor air pollution as a Class 1 (top level) carcinogen.
  • It causes premature death... by years. Generally, long-term exposure to an additional 100 μg/m3 of particles is associated with a reduction in life expectancy at birth of about 3.0 yrs
Watch pollution levels daily
  • There are many pollutants in our air, but PM 2.5 (particles that are smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter) is the best indicator to watch for how bad air pollution is each day. That’s because PM 2.5 particles are small enough to get lodged in your lungs and bloodstream. 
  • The World Health Organization sets a guideline for maximum daily exposure of PM 2.5 at 25 micrograms per cubic meter. Unfortunately as we all know, China is almost never under this level.
  • Where you live matters. PM 2.5 levels vary depending on how close you are to car traffic, power plants, use of diesel engines, burning of agricultural waste, height, smoke from restaurants and barbeques, and indoor wood stoves.

How to survive an Airpocalypse

  1. Get informed about health risks
  2. Watch air quality levels daily
  3. Arm yourself with air filters & pollution masks
  4. Reduce outdoor activity
  5. Take a baby aspirin each day to reduce inflammation
  6. Pray for high winds to blow away smog, or rain to drive particles into soil and waterway
  7. Leave the area


Worse than “worst” scales

  • On January 12, 2013, an airpocalypse in Beijing peaked PM 2.5 at 993 μg/m3.
  • On Oct , 2013 a pollution disaster saw PM 2.5 reaching 1,000 μg/m3 in Harbin, a city with 11 million people.
  • On December 5, 2013 PM 2.5 rose 300 μg/m3 in several hours to peak over 600 in Shanghai.

AQI readings max out at 500, but Chinese cities easily blow past this mark rendering the readings “beyond index”. At this rate, China needs to revise its AQI scales, much like Australia added a new “purple” temperature range when it hit history-making heat levels in 2013.

What good is a high GDP growth rate if China is unliveable?








Get informed

Air pollution has real health risks. Ignorance is not bliss- complacency can kill.

Download one or more air quality index (AQI) apps onto your smartphone to get accurate PM 2.5 readings every two hours. See a review of apps here.

One thing to know about air pollution data is that US and China rating systems for safe air levels differ. China uses developing nation standards, which are more lax.  Some AQI apps will let you choose which rating system to show. You can take a look at various countries classifications of healthy, unhealthy, hazardous.


Stock up on pollution masks

Buy extras for you, your family, your friends. Each time smog reaches to mindboggingly dangerous levels, stores run out of masks and air filters.

  • For more reading on various masks, see this guide from MyHealthBeijing.Comfort is key. You'll need to wear the mask a lot. Make sure you and your children are willing to wear it. I particularly like my "I Can Breathe" Mask which also comes in a variety of lace styles, fits my children, and has optional sports breathing valves. (It's made in the US, and was worn by some US Olympic athletes in Beijing Olympics.)
  • Look for the keyword "N95" when buying a mask. These masks block 95% of PM 2.5 particles. Normal surgical masks or cloth masks for warmth are not effective.
  • Air leaks are render the mask useless. The most important thing is to adjust the mask so there is no air leak around the nose and face. Good masks will let you pinch the nose bridge area to make a better seal. 
  • All parents, ayis and children should be trained on how to buy and use N95 rated pollution masks.
  • It doesn't make sense to buy disposable masks when we live in China long-term. We should buy washable masks that have disposable inserts. Ayis can wash the masks. Washable masks also tend to be more comfortable than disposable masks, encouraging more frequent use. Although I have chosen to import masks from the US ("I Can Breathe" brand), there are domestically available ones for RMB40 that are fine.
  • If you do buy disposable masks, look for 3M brand, the gold standard in masks.
  • Masks with exhalation valves are better for sports and eyeglass wearers.

Get an air filter... now

Air filter models are continously improving, so I won't recommend a specific model. I personally own IQ Air, Bei Ang, Sharp, Phillips, and SmartAir filters. But here are some key questions to consider when purchasing an air filter:

  • Look for the keywords "HEPA filter". A HEPA fiter (high efficiency particulate absorbing) filter is regarded as one of the best types of filter on the market. It is capable of removing 99% of small air particles 0.3 microns and larger.
  • Buy a filter that will cover the area of your room, and no less. Companies may have several versions of their air filters to cover different sized rooms.
  • Buy one filter for each bedroom and commonly used public spaces.
  • If you can't afford the premium models you may want, buy 2 cheaper ones for the same space and place them in diagonal corners from each other. 
  • Remember to add the cost of the machine upfront to the ongoing replacement of all filters when calculating the true price of a machine.
  • Filters are worthless if they are clogged with smog particles, so be sure to maintain them properly and more often than you think needed when the air is a disaster.
A good page for futher reading:

Air Filters to consider

IQ Air Health Pro 250 "New Edition" Swiss

The gold standard of air filters is more expensive both upfront and for ongoing maintenance of 3 disposable filters. 

6 fan speeds. Large room size coverage.

Blue Air  Swedish 

Heavy duty models available. 3 fan speeds. 3 expensive disposable filters

Sharp Plasmacluster


With or without humidifier.

Unique ionizer technology + 4 disposable filters. 

Download an example manual.

Phillips Living Room Air Purifier AC4074 Netherlands


4 filters. 
BeiAng  ( China

The BeiAng is simple to use- just on/off, with no variable speeds. It has 2 washable permanent filters that can be removed and wiped down with a damp cloth. The two outdoor grills on opposite sides should be wiped down as well. This might make it the most simple to use of all machines and cheapest to maintain.

Ionizer technology produces a slight odor, but is completely silent.

In-car model available as well.  China An ingenius student came up with this dirt-cheap "good enough" model. Now he's selling it via Taobao for RMB200-450.





















Performance of filters is highly affected by operations and maintenance of filters

  • Inside air is no cleaner than outside air when the doors are open.
  • So keep windows and doors closed in the area of filtration. 
  • Filters take an hour to clean a small room. So if you are entering and reentering the same space within a short time, the filter should be left on at highest volume/performance/noise while you are gone.
  • In heavy pollution, permanent filters should be wiped every other day. 
  • The filters should have some space around it, and not be pushed up against a barrier. 
Personal pollution monitor

Dylos makes a portable and relatively affordable particle monitor for use at home, school, playgrounds. It costs USD425 for the DC 1700 version that measures PM 2.5 and PM 10, and comes with a PC interface and battery operation. It operates on a laser, so if you drop it, you break it.

As of the end of 2013, there is no other alternative in this price range. Even compared to professional monitors worth tens of thousands of dollars, it's pretty darn accurate. See this experiment in Beijing's Sanlitun.

You can use it to compare indoor and outdoor quality, the efficacy of diffferent models of air filters, or compare readings in different locations.

Tips for Schools
  • Schools should issue pollution policies. At what PM 2.5 levels kids will stay inside classrooms? At what levels the schools will close?
  • Schools that can afford to purchase or can raise funding for air filters should purchase one adequate filter per classroom and at least two for common areas such as gyms, libraries, cafeterias, auditoriums. 
  • All children should bring masks to school when the pollution is above 150 and wear them in any indoor and outdoor spaces without filtration.
  • Kids should stay completely out of sports when above levels are above 200. Although this is higher than I am comfortable with, we also have to take in the realities of living in China.  
  • Some China cities have a policy that closes school if PM 2.5 levels reach 300 for 3 consecutive days. Some schools may be able to offer online teaching during this time.
  • All teachers, students, ayis should be trained on how to maintain filters and wear masks properly.
  • Masks should be labeled inside with names.
  • Most importantly, faculty and students should be educated on the health risks of air pollution and how to protect themselves.
  • The teachers, students, and ayis should all be taught how to properly clean the filters. It's a very visible learning opportunity, and involving kids gives them a sense of agency (empowerment to do something about the pollution situation). 


Sources of Air Pollution


Burning coal to generate power 

During Olympics the government replaced coal-fired heaters in homes with electric heaters

Place scrubbers on coal plants

Around 80% of China’s power comes from coal-fired power plants

Steel plants in neighboring Hebei province is responsible for a large portion of Beijing’s pollution

Do your part and use electricity smartly and frugally.

Automobile exhaust from burning oil 

New regulations in December 2013: Governmentt officials cannot use private cars except for matters of security

Driving only on odd and even license plate days

Encourage bike sharing and electric cars

China's vehicle population is more than 240 million, of which 120 million are passenger cars. Do your part to reduce exhaust pollution and take the subway or other public transportation. 

Industrial dust


Smoke from cooking at restaurants, canteens, and outdoor barbeques

Proposal to implement high-efficiency smoke exhaust ventilators in restaurants

Proposal to ban outdoor barbeques in public spaces in inner city


Construction dust

  China is in the middle of a 40 year urbanization boom. Construction dust from buildings and road infrastructure is inevitable.

Burning garbage

Better 'waste to energy' technologies are being piloted  

Burning agriculture waste

  Seasonal, in spring and fall
Burning coal briquettes for home cooking    300,000 die in China because of poor indoor air (2007, World Bank)





























Here's how you can get your free N95 pollution mask in Shanghai (quantities limited!)

JUCCCE has teamed up with, ARMA.TV, and The 100 Million Campaign to provide you with protective N95 masks that are also fun to wear!

To get your free pollution mask, ask for a free mask anywhere a waterless urinal from The 100 Million Campaign is located in Shanghai (Big Bamboo, Kartel, Soprano, NO. 88, Cafe des stagiaires 2 & 3, Stubb's, The apartment).

Or download on your phone and send a request "I want my mask" to via email or Guanxime on Wechat.

Quantites are limited to one per person. Get one before they run out!

Fun fact- just one waterless urinal can save up to 150,000 liters of water per year!



      Watch our pollution awareness video here

      produced by ARMA.TV for JUCCCE

      For pictures related to this Pollution Survival Guide to use under Creative Commons rights, see