On January 13, 2012 I went to my hometown of Beijing, accompanied by my Grandmother, we stepped off the train into the heaviest recorded air pollution in the history of the city. The air looked so foggy that entire skyscrapers disappeared into the haze.
Having lived in San Francisco, I’ve seen my share of foggy days where the Golden Gate Bridge is barely visible. I assumed the same about Beijing. It was only after reading the news, that I realized the haze was actually air pollution classified by the authorities as “pollution beyond index.” After a few more days of heavy pollution, I began searching online for a pollution mask to wear when going outdoors.
The search continued for days and, to my surprise, not a single mask was satisfactory. Cotton masks, surgical masks, N95 dust masks, even smog masks for bike riders could not effectively protect against particles smaller than 2.5um. Some lack the fine material to filter out particles, others used activated carbons that only filter gases, and all lacked the ability to form a decent seal to a person’s face. This simple flaw allows polluted air to leak in from the sides of the mask as one inhales, thus rendering them nearly useless for air pollution.
As I abandoned the mask search and returned to California, I received the most dreaded phone call. My Grandma was in the hospital with a stroke. The doctors had saved her, but the stroke made her unable to form words. Six months later while she was still recovering from the effects of the stroke, she suffered a heart attack. Due to the location of the artery, the blockage was inoperable.
According to official records, hospital admissions skyrocketed the weeks after January 12th. Most cases were heart attacks, strokes, and breathing complications.
It has been a blessing that my Grandma is still with me today, and I am so thankful for the time I have with her. I intend to compose an effective protection against air pollution for my family, friends, and everyone living in the affected cities.