Bad for Business: Air in India, China, Hong Kong Dirtier Than in Singapore, Australia

If you have a choice between setting up your China headquarters in Beijing or in Shanghai, choose Shanghai for the sake of your people’s health. According to a compilation of air quality data released by the World Health Organisation (WHO), Beijing’s air is far dirtier than Shanghai’s.

On average over one year, Beijing’s air is laden with particles 10mm or smaller (P10) at concentrations of 121 micrograms per cubic metre of air. Shanghai’s air has 81 micrograms of P10 particles, which the WHO says can enter the lungs and the bloodstream, causing heart disease, lung cancer, asthma and acute lower respiratory infections.
But Shanghai should not be complacent. The WHO’s guidelines recommends a level of only 20 micrograms per cubic metre of air. In the Asia Pacific, only cities in Australia (including Sydney and Canberra) and New Zealand (including Wellington and Christchurch), in addition to Pekanbaru in Indonesia, make the grade.
Hong Kong was not included in the WHO compilation. But the China Statistical Yearbook 2010 released by China’s National Bureau of Statistics, which was the main source of the WHO’s Chinese data, places the concentration of P10 particles in Hong Kong at 47 micrograms – still twice the recommended level.
With P10 particles at 32 micrograms per cubic metre of air, Singapore is cleaner than Hong Kong, which may be one of its strengths against Hong Kong in their friendly competition to become the regional headquarters of choice of international companies.
“Fine particle pollution often originates from combustion sources such as power plants and motor vehicles,” the WHO notes. The agency estimates that there were 1.34 million premature deaths in 2008 because of outdoor air pollution.
“Solutions to outdoor air pollution problems in a city will differ depending on the relative contribution of pollution sources, its stage of development, as well as its local geography,” says Dr. Carlos Dora, WHO Coordinator for Interventions for Health Environments.
“The most powerful way that the information from the WHO database can be used is for a city to monitor its own trends in air pollution over time, so as to identify, improve and scale-up effective interventions.”  
Below is a selection of cities and their P10 concentrations. The WHO compilation covers nearly 1,100 cities in 91 countries, including capitals and those with more than 100,000 residents.  
Average level of particles 10mm or smaller (P10) per cubic metre of air. The higher the number, the worse the air quality

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