“It looks like hebel,” LeYanna said as she stepped out of our apartment building on the way to school. Hebel, is Hebrew. It’s from Ecclesiastes and means “smoke” or “vapor.” We don’t teach her Hebrew but she’s picked some up from watching the Bible Project videos.*
It was around 8 a.m. toward the end of October. The AQI (air quality index) was around 160, which is red on the chart. Green is good. Yellow is okay. Orange is not good. Red is bad. Purple, which covers 301-500 is really bad. There’s no color after purple but the AQI numbers will go over 1,000…at least in this part of the world. For comparison, Grand Rapids is currently 22 (green) and Sacramento is 37 (green). You can find your current AQI by clicking here [if your city looks like it has not data, zoom in and click the blank box, it may still show something].
What does this mean, practically?
It means your 8 year old might notice that the air smells funny and looks hazy, like hebel.
It means the air begins to taste bad. I didn’t even know that air could taste but it can and it does.
It means visibility is reduced. Normally we can see miles into the mountains. There will come a time when we have trouble seeing down the block.
It means your breathing becomes more shallow because your lungs want oxygen but they don’t want to breathe that air. Everyone gets sick; colds last longer and turn into pneumonia more quickly. Kids and old people get hit the worst. Respiratory illness is a major killer here.
We’re often asked why the government doesn’t do anything about it.
This is complicated.
The government has done some things: given free electricity to gers at night so they can use electric heat instead of coal and incentivized high efficiency stoves, for example. But the government doesn’t have a lot of money and is relatively corrupt so things don’t happen too quickly here. And, with more people moving into the city and the ger districts every day, the problem is getting worse.
So, what do we do?
We pray, and we invite you to pray with us for comprehensive air quality reform. We believe this is inline both with God’s care for his image-bearing children who suffer and with his desire to see the earth flourish rather than be poisoned (Genesis 1). We believe that solutions exist and that God can guide the scientists, leaders, and social reformers to turn this ship around.
We use this app and its widget to monitor the AQI. It gives us a composite of the city and we can click to see the AQI in different parts of the city. We’ve noticed that the US Embassy, the AQI monitor closest to us, is often an optimistic outlier (maybe it’s not a liar, maybe it’s just measuring inside a building with a good filter system) so we don’t trust that number if it’s not relatively consistent with the others.
We keep windows closed when the AQI is 75 or above. This threshold been our longest-lasting marital dispute since we moved here. I want to keep windows open when it’s yellow or lower because, when the government-controlled heat is on it gets hot in our apartment (over 80f/25c) and I hate being hot. But Cory likes breathing and both he and LeYanna have lungs that are more aware of pollution than mine so we’ve compromised on the number 75. If it’s above 75 the windows are closed. If it’s lower than 75, the windows are open. Also, if it’s close to 75 and Cory’s not home, the windows are open.
We wear pollution masks when we’re outside. Cory and LeYanna consistently have them on as soon as it hits orange. I, because of stubbornness (foolishness?) usually wait until it’s red or I can taste the air.
Cory did a ton of research on masks before we moved here. He settled on the Cambridge masks. They have limited availability here. For some reason, we cannot send them here directly from Amazon so we have to ask family and friends to mail them to us.**
We have a variety of air filters in our home. In part II (which will post next week), I’ll talk about the actual machines, why we picked them, and how they work.
*one of our unofficial goals while we’re here is to partner with the local churches to get all the Bible Project videos at least subtitled in Mongolian, possibly translated.