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AQI: Air Quality Index and Wearing Masks

The past few weeks the AQI here in Qingdao has not been good. For those who are unaware, AQI stands for Air Quality Index, essentially how much pollution (or allergens) are in the air. The higher the number the worse the air quality. The scale for measuring the AQI ranges from 0-500, however, I have been told that during winter months some parts of China surpass that 500 mark.


The air quality is something I am still trying to figure out. But here is what I have learned so far:

0 to 500

Like I mentioned above, the air quality is measured on a scale of 0 to 500, but what exactly does that mean. From 0 to 50 is considered good air quality and is in the healthy range of pollutants and allergens. This range is often displayed in green on AQI maps. The next range is from 51 to 100 and this is the moderate level, often shown in yellow. This level is normal for most of China and is considered quite good for large cities that tend to have more pollution than other places. The third level is from 101 to 150, orange, stands for unhealthy for sensitive groups. Since I have asthma, I would technically fall under this category. However, I have come to find that I really don't notice any affects of the air quality until the next stage, 151 to 200, or higher. This stage is depicted using the color red and is just labeled unhealthy. Next, (yes, it keeps going) is from 201 to 300 and is considered very unhealthy. For this level they use the color purple to indicate where in the city the air is very unhealthy. The final level, I know there are a lot, is from 301 to 500 and is referred to as hazardous. This level is indicated using the color maroon.

Living with Poor Air Quality

Now that you know more about air quality and what the various levels of the AQI are, you are probably wondering how people live in places where the air can get this bad. Well, in Qingdao, China, which is where I live, the air rarely gets higher than 200. The air quality is determined by pollutants in the air and these pollutants increase in the winter months due to burning coal to heat homes and other buildings. About a month ago the air did get quite bad. We had an entire week that was consistently well over 300. During this week my roommate and I noticed how much warmer the temperature was, then as soon as the air cleared up the temperature dropped quickly.

I noticed myself experiencing shortness of breath and tightness in my chest when the air quality was really high. As you can see in the picture above, we wear masks when the air quality gets really bad. Over the past few months of living in China, I have learned that there are actually three types of masks that people often wear here. The first kind is a typical surgical mask, which is worn when someone is feeling ill and doesn't want others around them to get sick. The second kind is the type I am wearing in the image above. It is a reusable mask with an air filter on it. These masks help filter the bad stuff out of the air. The last type of mask people wear here in China is a reusable mask, similar to the one I am wearing, however it doesn't have filters on it. These masks aren't meant to filter the air, they are worn for the sole purpose of keeping your face warm when it is very cold outside.


If you happen to live in a place where there is clean air, count yourself lucky. Also, take in a few deep breathes for me.

I would also like to inform you about something new I am going to try to start doing. I have decided to create a YouTube channel where I can post and share videos about my time here in China. There are so many things that I would like to blog about but it seems challenging to explain through writing and much easier if I could just show you. If you would like to see those videos I will be posting them on my blog AND on my YouTube channel. If there is anything you would like me to make a video on or to discuss in a video, let me know and I will try my best to do it.

xo Noelle

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