It’s Official: You’ve Just Lived Through the Worst Week of Bad Beijing Air in Recent Memory

Congratulations, contemporary Beijing residents: You now have new pollution bragging rights, as you have survived the worst week of air on record over the past three years!

Yes, you’ve toughed it out and can lord it over those weak-lunged weenies who already gave up on Beijing or flew off to wait out the smog in particulate matter-free tropical locales.

Using daily AQI averages that the Ministry of Environmental Protection began releasing on January 1, 2014, the past seven days’ average AQI has topped the charts at 334, smashing our previous foul seven-day record average of AQI 313 set between December 20-26, 2015.

Be our guest and print out this handy certificate below and frame it for posterity. Go ahead, you deserve it (it might also come in handy to show your doctor at your next checkup so as to explain that nasty cough):

In a grim start to the new year, the worst day of the current seven-day run was last Sunday (Jan 1), where the air averaged an AQI of 470. That wasn’t enough to topple our Worst Day on Record, which still stands as Christmas 2015, when the AQI peaked at a lung-searing average of 485.

In fact, January 1’s AQI 470 was only bad enough for third place on the list of worst one-day averages, also bested by December 1, 2015’s 476.

Remember, these AQI readings are on the Chinese scale, which is slightly different from the US scale (an example of how they differ in terms of particulate matter can be seen in the chart below), and the reported numbers are 24-hour daily average exposure.

You’ve definitely seen higher numbers, but those represent hourly values at specific monitoring stations rather than the overall average of Beijing for 24 hours.

And before you run off screaming “government conspiracy,” keep in mind that the measurements kept by the Ministry of Environmental Protection are generally in line with the US Embassy’s readings, and even people like Greenpeace take the MEP’s word for their numbers.

To look on the bright side: yeah, we’ve had a bad week, but the air is getting better – ever so gradually. And let’s not forget that less than a year ago we had our best seven-day run ever, where from February 13 to 19 we breathed a mere AQI average of 43 for a week.

While it’s easy to say that this has been the worst week of the past three years, its harder to conclude that this has been the worst week ever, due to ever-changing testing standards.

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Beijing didn’t even begin tracking PM2.5 pollution until around 2007, and a rollout of additional monitoring stations was not complete until after 2012. Data was not published publicly until the start of 2014.

Comparative data before 2014 is hard to come by – the best proxy being the air monitoring station run by the US Embassy, but those readings are problematic as it’s just one station’s average and not representative of the city as a whole.

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