Beijing's Air Quality: On Scale of 500, It's 755

Pollution index sails way past 'hazardous'

By Polly Davis Doig,  Newser Staff

Posted Jan 13, 2013 11:35 AM CST

(Newser) – If experiencing Tehran's dismal air pollution is "suicidal," Beijing residents might want to dig a bunker and stay there. The Chinese capital, which wrinkled noses a couple of years ago when it managed to break the very index meant to measure its air quality, yesterday blew right by it, scoring a staggering 755 out of 500 at 8pm last night. As the New York Times puts it, "all of Beijing looked like an airport smokers' lounge," with skyscrapers fading into the haze and residents bolting doors and windows and running air purifiers full time to escape the smog.

The reading came from the US embassy's Twitter feed, which confirmed that the reading was not in fact a typo and that its monitor is functioning just fine. A little context for that 755: The WHO says that readings over 500 indicate 20 times the particulate matter deemed safe; New York City, in comparison, notched a 19 on the same scale yesterday. “This is a historic record for Beijing,” says a resident. Others, the Times notes, called it "post-apocalyptic" and "terrifying."

Skyscrapers are obscured by heavy haze in Beijing Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013. People refused to venture outdoors and buildings disappeared into the murky skyline as air quality went off the index.
Skyscrapers are obscured by heavy haze in Beijing Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013. People refused to venture outdoors and buildings disappeared into the murky skyline as air quality went off the index.   (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
A man struggles with his camera during a visit to Tiananmen Square in Beijing Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013.
A man struggles with his camera during a visit to Tiananmen Square in Beijing Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013.   (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
Traditional decorations on a roof top are seen near the sun during a very hazy day in Beijing Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013.
Traditional decorations on a roof top are seen near the sun during a very hazy day in Beijing Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013.   (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
A star atop a flag pole appears to poke at the sun during a very hazy day in Beijing Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013.
A star atop a flag pole appears to poke at the sun during a very hazy day in Beijing Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013.   (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
A woman wears a mask as she visits Tiananmen Square in Beijing Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013.
A woman wears a mask as she visits Tiananmen Square in Beijing Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013.   (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
A woman wears a mask as she visits Tiananmen Square in Beijing Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013.
A woman wears a mask as she visits Tiananmen Square in Beijing Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013.   (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
A visitor stretches her arms as she looks over the Forbidden City through severe haze in Beijing Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013.
A visitor stretches her arms as she looks over the Forbidden City through severe haze in Beijing Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013.   (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
Visitors, left, at the Forbidden City walk through a door way enveloped by severe haze in Beijing Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013.
Visitors, left, at the Forbidden City walk through a door way enveloped by severe haze in Beijing Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013.   (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
A man flies a kite near electricity pylons on a hazy day in Beijing Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013.
A man flies a kite near electricity pylons on a hazy day in Beijing Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013.   (AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan)
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