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Air pollution apps are no joke in smog-choked China

Commentary: In a place where protective face masks are common attire, having the right app can make a huge impact on your lungs.

Air pollution in major Chinese cities (and others) is the real deal. You read about it, hear about it and see locals regularly don paper face masks in an attempt to shield their lungs from its toxins.

Many install apps on their phones to help monitor the buildup in cities like Shenzhen, Shanghai and especially Beijing. China's capital only had 25 "good" air quality days between 2008 and 2014, according to my Lonely Planet tour book, which in turn quoted the definition of "good" from the US Environmental Protection Agency.

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There's no shortage of monitoring apps to choose from, so I downloaded one that my expat friend Eric recommended, one simply called Air Quality. Its icon depicts a man wearing a face mask, which seemed like a good start.

The app lists a whole heap of air quality information for five cities: the weather forecast, an advisory to wear a mask or skip it and of course, the pollution rating (today Shanghai is excellent and Beijing is moderately polluted). In addition, the app displays levels for the most major indicators of toxic air, and updates those values as the day goes on. Yesterday morning in Beijing was less polluted than the afternoon.

You can drill down deeper for a lot more detailed readings, and for clear recommendations on whether you should:

  • Work out
  • Wear a mask
  • Turn on the air purifier
  • Keep kids and elderly folks inside
  • Open windows

There's a serious amount of data in these apps, and it's all actionable information that directly links to respiratory health. I may be unused to covering up with a mask, but I'd buy up a bundle if it kept me from breathing in a steady stream of poison for days at a time.