In the Dirtiest Cities, Air Pollution Forces Life Changes – The New York Times

23 Dicembre 2015 1 Di macwalt

Smog on the outskirts in New Delhi last year. Life in the world’s most polluted cities presents an array of challenges and perils for residents. Credit Roberto Schmidt/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images – In the Dirtiest Cities, Air Pollution Forces Life Changes  – By SONA PATEL

Thick layers of toxic smog often blanket the skies in Hanoi, limiting visibility to less than a mile away. When the pollution gets really bad in Beijing, children are kept home from school or restricted to classrooms during recess. In Shanghai, a mother says she struggles to get her child to wear a protective mask.

New York Times readers living in the most polluted cities in the world shared with us how they manage in the face of toxic smog. What follows is a selection of the more than 100 responses received. They have been edited and condensed.

Some readers said they checked air pollution levels more than the weather, while others said they were lucky to be able to afford costly air purifiers for their homes.

What is your experience with air pollution? We invite you to share your experience in the comments. Please include where you live.

Keeping Children Inside

Lina Farrow, 37, in Suzhou, China.
Children ages 5 years and 8 months

All of our activities are planned around the air pollution levels. Checking the pollution levels every morning is routine and that determines what we do and how we do it, especially during the weekends.

I have young children and it is difficult to explain why we can’t go out so they can ride their scooters or simply kick a football in the park. On polluted days when it is high but not horrendous, we have to take the kids to the play areas in the malls, rather than go outdoors.


Suzhou, China, on December 5. Credit Lina Farrow

Terri Schwartzbeck, 41, in Beijing.
Children ages 6 and 10

We are more focused on taking advantage of a “good air day,” i.e. telling the kids to go outside and play and exercising outdoors, because staying inside when the air is bad is a fact of life.

All international schools have restrictions if the Air Quality Index reaches a certain level, meaning that children must play indoors at recess and lunch. It’s signaled by two bells instead of one. The kids all know to listen for those two bells.


 The view from the street where the U.S. Embassy is located, taken one day apart in early December. Credit Terri Schwartzbeck

Worsening Health

Wu Yifan, 22, in Nanjing, China.

I have been the victim of allergic rhinitis since I moved from the suburbs to the city. When the smog appears, my nose feels very bad. I can’t even breathe. I also feel very depressed when the city is engulfed with smog.

I haven’t made any changes to my daily routine. However, as an illustrator, I make art hoping that people will constantly pay attention to the problem instead of just complaining, trying to forget about it, and pretending that it doesn’t exist.


Wu Yifan, an illustrator in Yanjing, China, creates artwork as a way to raise awareness of the effects of air pollution. Credit Wu Yifan

Paying Dearly

Panachayil Jacob Varughese, 33, in Trivandrum, India.

We purchased an air purifier and have been using it for the past few months, albeit only in the bedroom. We are not purchasing more air filters as they are pretty pricey, and we may have to think twice before putting our money there.

We have also purchased a special health insurance package for the whole family. It gives us peace of mind in case we develop severe health problems.

Surabhi Srivastava, 26, in New Delhi.

I now use sort of a scarf every day to cover my nose and mouth, but it has more psychological benefits than actual practical benefits in terms of protecting myself from the harmful air I breathe. I would like to buy a mask and/or an air purifier, but they are quite expensive, and while they might be useful in the short term, air pollution in New Delhi is a structural problem that requires a more comprehensive long-term solution.

Struggling to Breathe

Presly Mellor in Suzhou, China.

I’m constantly checking the air quality and deciding whether or not it’s worth going outside that day.

If I have to go to work, I bite the bullet and walk as fast as I can so I get to my work with the air purifiers.

Making a Move

Lise Wagnac in Beijing.

I will be leaving Beijing soon to move to Ningbo, in the eastern province of Zhejiang, because of my health. I have been living in Beijing for the past six months, and from the first week I moved here, I’ve felt the effects. I’ve had chronic chest pain and a hard time breathing on a daily basis. I never realized the impact of pollution before moving to Beijing.

Staying Indoors

Sun Tian, 14, in Beijing.

Translated from Chinese:

About 30 of us pooled together the money to buy the air purifier in our classroom. We have two.

On days when the smog is bad, we avoid going outside. We make sure the windows are sealed shut. If I see an open window or door in the hallway, I try to close it. But some windows are too high up for me to reach.

Sakshi Talwar, 31, in New Delhi.

Two years ago I was able to bike around in the early mornings, but that’s not possible now. It feels like inhaling smoke.

Graphic:  Delhi’s Air Is Often More Polluted Than Beijing’s

The levels of harmful fine particulate matter, called PM2.5, are significantly higher in Delhi during the winter months than they are in Beijing.

Michelle Chung, 23, in New York, grew up in Beijing.

We would often take public transportation, but now that is just not worth the extended exposure to the outside air. My family no longer opens their windows. Ironically, fresh air does not come from outside. It comes from the four air purifiers we have in every corner of our house. Long gone are the days where they would go for a stroll in the park next to our apartment or take a bike ride on the streets.

Restricting Activity

Dan Buckley, 35, in Hanoi, Vietnam.

I’ll wear a mask outside, however some effects are impossible to escape: headaches, irritated throat, sore lungs. Even with all the efforts in sealing leaky doors and windows, it is not possible to prevent all the bad air from entering your house or office.

My wife and I have become air-quality evangelists. We frequently recommend to colleagues and friends using a mask or avoiding certain activities.


 Tay Ho District in Hanoi, as seen in early September, 9 days apart. Credit Dan Buckley

Battling Traffic

Angela Sung, 28, in Shanghai.

When I first moved to Shanghai from Los Angeles, I didn’t wear a mask when I rode my scooter, and I would often get a headache after my 40-minute commute.

The masks really helped me later on, but my eyes are the biggest problem now. I am not sure if the air pollution particles could affect my vision, but my vision has gotten visibly worse after staying in Shanghai for one and a half years. My eyes also get extremely irritated when riding the scooter.

Nishika D’Silva, 22, in Mumbai.

Colds and coughs have become common for me every three to six weeks as opposed to getting a cold and cough three to four times a year. I wear a scarf to cover my nose and hair, and choose to travel by an air-conditioned cab or Uber whenever possible because taking a rickshaw through traffic is horrible.

Appreciating Blue Skies

Mike DeAngelo, 29, in Beijing.

During the worst smog, I’m far more depressed. In the throes of the most severe bout of smog we suffered in Beijing a few weeks ago, it was five days of walking around in what looked like a nuclear winter. I’ve learned to not take our blue skies for granted as they’re the exception, not the rule, unfortunately.

Before I moved to China, I never thought twice about air quality. I think clean air is something that a lot of people take for granted.

I’ve lived here for over 4 months, and I’ve been sick almost every day.

Second Red Alert for Beijing: Air Pollution Worsens

Beijing issued its second-ever red alert for dangerously bad air quality on Friday morning, just a week after its first one. The current alert is for hazardous levels starting on Saturday and end at midnight on Tuesday.

Worrying What’s Next

Nicole Schaefer-McDaniel, 37, in Ulan Bator, Mongolia.


 Credit Nicole Schaefer-McDaniel

I worry about my kids developing health problems. Many kids have pneumonia and other respiratory problems in the winter. I worry about me and my husband developing similar health problems, but I am mostly worried about the residents in the ger district, the part of town where coal is burned all day long so people can keep warm. People live in this pollution while I have the luxury of escaping to live in a cleaner part of town.

Sorgente: In the Dirtiest Cities, Air Pollution Forces Life Changes – The New York Times

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