Shanghai smog: Life in a polluted city

PM2.5's masks, made by the Shanghai company Sinotextile. The company formerly made underwear and sportswear.

It may be the world's second biggest economy, but China can be a tough place to live. There's a new strain of bird flu, toxic food scandals galore and the worst air pollution on record.

Smoggy skies are part of the growing pains of a developing country and China is no exception. But for the ex-pats living and working in China what is it really like to have to breathe polluted air?

Marketplace's Shanghai correspondent Rob Schmitz says he definitely has to make adjustments to his daily life.

"Each day when I wake up I check my phone. Not for email, but to check the air quality. I have an app that gives me hourly readings from the air monitoring station at the U.S. consulate here in Shanghai. I use it to plan my day. For example, whether I'll do my morning run or whether I'll need to turn up the very expensive air filters we bought for the kids' rooms," said Schmitz.

"This year my wife bought the family a bunch of industrial grade filtration masks that we'll sometimes wear outside when the air quality is really bad."

Having to wear sci fi-level filtration masks is pretty extreme, but the pollution levels in Shanghai aren't even as bad as other cities like Beijing. Schmitz said that businesses, both foreign and Chinese, are starting to do something about it.

"I think the changes we're going to see in the business environment are more people leaving Beijing and coming to places like Shanghai or Hong Kong and businesses moving parts of their operations to these cities where pollution isn't as terrible as it is in Beijing."

"Not as terrible" isn't exactly a ringing endorsement for Shanghai, but Schmitz says he doesn't have any plans to leave China just yet.

"We've taken a lot of precautions to protect ourselves and our children but it does weigh on you and it's getting worse. It's something we monitor on a day-by-day basis."


RELATED: Want to see what other major cities around the globe might look like with Beijing quality air? Try out our Smog Simulator.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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