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China's air is keeping an entire generation indoors

Posting in Cities

Face masks are already part of the urban dress code. Parents check air quality indexes before taking their children to a picnic. Air purifiers from IQAir China, for example, could cost $3,000, yet sales have tripled.

With levels of deadly pollutants up to 40 times the recommended exposure limit in big cities, air pollution has become a childhood risk. And parents are taking steps that radically alter the urban lifestyles of their children. New York Times reports.

Parents are confining sons and daughters to their homes, even if it means keeping them away from friends. Schools are canceling outdoor activities and field trips. Parents with means are choosing schools based on air-filtration systems, and some international schools have built gigantic, futuristic-looking domes over sports fields to ensure healthy breathing.

One $5.7 million project involves hospital-grade air-filtration systems and two large white domes of synthetic fabric that cover athletic fields and tennis courts -- which offers 1,900 students a place to exercise during high pollution.

Some families talk about trips to “clean-air destinations,” others are just leaving:

Some middle- and upper-class Chinese parents and expatriates have already begun leaving China, a trend that executives say could result in a huge loss of talent and experience. Foreign parents are also turning down prestigious jobs or negotiating for hardship pay from their employers, citing the pollution.

Studies are backing up this fear of long-term damage. Besides respiratory illnesses, research shows links between prenatal exposure and anxiety, depression, attention-span problems, slower growth and cognitive delays, and even autism.

Unfortunately, according to current trends, pollution will worsen by an additional 70 percent by 2025. However...

Few developments have eroded trust in the Communist Party as quickly as the realization that the leaders have failed to rein in threats to children’s health and safety. There was national outrage in 2008 after more than 5,000 children were killed when their schools collapsed in an earthquake, and hundreds of thousands were sickened and six infants died in a tainted-formula scandal… But the fury over air pollution is much more widespread and is just beginning to gain momentum.

[New York Times]

Image by Bobak via Wiki

— By on April 25, 2013, 3:45 AM PST

Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure