Helen’s Travel Corner

Helen’s Travel Corner header image 1

China Pollution and my Lungs in Beijing

June 25th, 2008 · 8 Comments

There are some pretty scary reports and pictures of the pollution in Beijing. Just take a look at this one taken by The World by Road Expedition when the crew was travelling through China:

Who could tell that an entire city lies ahead in this picture? The World by Crew amply commented on this photo: The city skyline is out there somewhere.

ESPN reporter Bob Holtzman reported in his latest “Outside the Lines” on Beijing report that “had the Olympics been held last August, the air quality in Beijing would have been in violation of the World Health Organization standard every single day.” (There’s a great video accompanying his article.) And even scarier are the health risks that such polluted air causes for the Chinese. Kevin Holden Platt for National Geographic News stated that, “A World Health Organization (WHO) report estimates that diseases triggered by indoor and outdoor air pollution kill 656,000 Chinese citizens each year.” Indeed Olympic athletes have a lot to worry about when it comes to performance under such unnerving air quality.

As a person who will be more than traveling in Beijing this summer for the Olympics, but living there for 3 months, these statistics are enough to send me running back to my Tennessee hills. I genuinely care about my non-smoker lungs and prefer to preserve them from turning out like I’ve been smoking 2 packs of cigarettes a day for my entire life.

(thank me later for posting an illustration instead of an actual picture)

So what precautions am I taking to protect my valuable breathing machines? I have four different “tools” to aid my lungs against the pollution in China:

1. A prescribed inhaler

My very good-looking internal medicine doctor prescribed an Albuterol inhaler after visiting him for my traveler’s doctor appointment. I’ve never had any asthma problems in my life, but I’ll have this in case I have problems breathing indicated by wheezing. The inhaler won’t actually help filter any pollution in the air since it only opens up the lungs; it will only aid in my breathing.

2. Portable oxygen: Personal Oxygen Device (POD)

While this doesn’t have any medical claims, it will offer a fresh breath of air comprised of 95% oxygen and 5% nitrogen. It’s portable, lightweight and easy to use. I can already picture days where I’m going to forget what clean air means and this little thing will provide some comfort by supplying doses of pure air. Unfortunately, this also won’t filter pollution and will only offer fresh air for my poor lungs.



3. Doctor’s masks

This highly attractive look is compliments of a doctor’s surgical mask which will provide my best defense for filtering Beijing’s polluted air. It’s not a silver-bullet answer by any means, but it will help filter the air from the larger floating particles (like debris from construction). The box does claim they’re proven effective in reducing the spread of germs and bacteria and also help provide relief from common household dust, ragweed pollen and yard dusts….extremely comforting to know!


One disappointing Google search revealed from Time Asia that:

MYTH: A surgical mask can screen out air pollution.
FACT: Absolutely untrue. Surgical masks can’t filter out the relatively tiny particles and gases like nitrogen dioxide that cause the most damage to your body. Gas masks with fine air filters can offer some protection, but the filters need to be changed often and the masks are uncomfortable, especially in warm weather.

ANOTHER FACT: Things aren’t looking good for my lungs!

4. Bandanas

I have been known to sport a bandana to help offset sweat while in S.E. Asia (see my About page picture); however, if I use this to sheild my face in China, it will offer more psychological comfort more than anything else. I’m not ashamed to admit, I’ll take a placibo pill in the form of a bandana if it will ease my mind a little…at least I’ll have my POD and inhaler in case I do need help breathing!





After putting each of these to the test, I’ll let you know how well they worked. Although it looks like there’s not much I can do to protect my lungs while over there. Until then, I’m soaking up as much clean O2 as I can hear in Cambridge!


Happy travels,



Bonus for reading my entire posting:

Check out this really interesting flash animation with startling facts on China’s pollution from E-Ranlai Magazine.


Tags: Beijing · China · health · Olympics · safety

8 responses so far ↓

  • 1 nomadic matt // Jun 26, 2008 at 11:57 am

    I can just picture you around beijing with one of those big oxygen tanks…..and then all the chinese staring at you.

  • 2 Critic Blog : Air Pollution: A Threat to Beijing Olympics // Jun 26, 2008 at 2:39 pm

    […] Via HelensTravelCorner […]

  • 3 Mike S. // Jun 28, 2008 at 9:45 pm

    Great post… As bad as it is there, I must point out that there is a HUGE difference in the air quality from when I first visited Beijing 9 years ago to my last trips there 1 & 4 months ago. Its really like night and day. Hell, you can even see BLUE sky!

    Granted, that’s not a ringing endorsement, but given the massive strides that they have made, I actually think that the final steps that the government will be taking will be very effective and show even more marked improvement.

    Taking over 1 million cars off of the road starting 2 weeks before the games begin will do wonders. Couple this will a cessation of all construction projects around the city and a banning of all old heavy-duty trucks (which are all very dirty) and I think that the conditions will surprise people.

    I’m no “rah, rah” guy for the Chinese government, but having seen where they were vs. where they are now, and knowing what the Chinese can accomplish when they decide to do something, I really can’t doubt that they will be able to deliver on their promise of save air for the games.

  • 4 Lifecruiser // Jun 29, 2008 at 12:37 am

    Oh, my god! I’m not sure I would want to go there…. It sounds so bad. How chic one would look with an oxygen mask or Doc’s mask over the face… *giggles*

    Suddenly I’m very glad that I were born in such a clean country as Sweden! Phew!

  • 5 Jenny // Jun 30, 2008 at 2:18 am

    Well, then I’d dress up as a surgeon if fashion calls for it LOL

  • 6 susan // Jun 30, 2008 at 9:59 pm

    wow…sobering film…number 94 of 133, so there are around 39 WORSE places to be for pollution…geez…are they going to keep the cars off the road/cease construction for the duration of the games? bet not…it just does not sound like there is an artificial device that will keep the irritants at bay sufficiently…

  • 7 Mark H // Jul 1, 2008 at 5:05 am

    I still predict there will an issue through the Olympics over pollution at some point, however effective the traffic control is during the games.

    And there are almost 40 worse cities around the place….

  • 8 Jena // Jul 1, 2008 at 9:02 pm

    Sad when Cambridge becomes your standard for ‘clean air.’ haha. Good luck this summer Helen! We will miss you here. :)

Leave a Comment