For many residents of Beijing, the extent to which we follow the fairly consistent level of smog, really only involves the monitoring of a series of smartphone apps. Following three full weeks of clear skies and very un-beijing-like smogless-ness, the factories appear to be back to work and the AQI index is steadily climbing.
Prior to 2006, the Beijing Municipality government collected a variety of atmospheric metrics through their Beijing Environmental Protection Monitoring Center but they importantly, withheld their readings for PM2.5, the name for micro particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter and importantly the most important index in determining safe and healthy air to breathe.
Observing the apparently hazardous air conditions of Beijing, members of the United States delegation to China decided they would be introducing a new service for friends and family of the delegation, accurate monitoring of deadly PM2.5.
From the beginnings of their hourly reports over on Twitter at @BeijingAir, awareness has been increasing about the poor air quality in Beijing and the precautions needed to be taken to avoid inhaling polluting substances in the atmosphere.
Pollution masks offering various levels of protection are now commonly available at 7/11 stores across the city and some of the industrial offerings, the so-called N-95-certified apparatuses, have seen large adoption across sectors of the community.
Accurate Air Quality Assessment
There are two common ways people go about determining location-specific air quality: approximation based on nearby local weather monitoring stations or home solutions.
Of the home solutions, the most common solution is to simply take the readings from one of the many home air filtering appliances that people have installed throughout their homes. This option is all very well and good if you have splurged on some of the pricier models able to accurately determine this kind of information, but what about for those of us with filtering solutions that don’t offer built-in monitoring or for those of us who want to test the air in different locations.
Enter handheld monitors
There are a number of reasons one might want to take readings outside of the home, the most important one being to debunk the persistent rumour I hear around here, that by being ‘indoors’ one is somehow sheltered from the effects of less than ideal air conditions.
For a good many years there have been handheld solutions available, such as the relatively expensive RMB 1600 Dylos DC1100 Pro Air Quality Monitor but none are widely available or have caught on with the masses in China.
Origins, a Beijing-based startup, has just begun to sell the Laser Egg, a battery-powered portable air quality monitoring device able to provide readings for PM2.5, pm.05 and the more commonly observed AQI indices. The idea behind the Laser Egg fills in a gap where other monitoring solutions fall short by providing a relatively inexpensive (RMB 379), accurate monitor – separate from a purification device – that you can take with you wherever you might need readings.
For the purposes of conducting this review, I took it upon myself to put my newly purchased Laser Egg to the test, and took readings from a variety of locations across Beijing.
First test: Embassy of the United States in China.
Just as this story more or less began with the United States, so I thought an accurate gauge of the reliability of this probe should also take place at their Embassy residence in the Chaoyang district of Beijing.
I placed the probe in my backpack, filed down Chaoyangmenwai and parked myself out the front of the embassy. Glancing at my phone, the China Air Quality Index app read 286 for its PM2.5 AQI readings and furnishing the probe from my backpack, I was quite surprised to uncover a near identical reading at about 281. First test complete.
Second test: My office.
Surely, different locations throughout Beijing will likely see greater and lesser concentrations of PM2.5 represented in the atmosphere. My office was only a minor exception to this rule.
AQI readings taken from the United States Embassy, 285, readings from my Laser Egg, 250. Not a great deal of variance. As can be seen, the difference between outdoors and indoors is not significant, not nearly substantial enough for claims of sufficient protection without filtration devices.
Third test: Laser Egg one hour after air purifier activation.
Perhaps the most useful feature the Laser Egg has to offer is its ability to gauge the effectiveness of any home purifying solution. I’d already tested the Egg against the known reliability of the embassy readings, against my home with no filtration – demonstrating city-wide and indoor-outdoor variance – and now I wanted to test the Egg in a closed environment with air filtration measures in place. Readings taken from my desk approximately 2 meters away from the purifier.
Reading from the US embassy: 286, readings from my office with no filtration: 250.
One hour later.
Readings from the US embassy: 280, readings from my filtered office: 25.
The Laser egg is not a purifier, but it does what it says it does with a convincing level of accuracy. Would I have bought one if it was the case that I had a fancy purifier with an inbuilt reader? Probably not. But then again, this reader can travel, and i’m still keen on testing the air quality in the subway, not to mention my office space over in Haidian.
In conclusion, the Laser Egg is for the curious and precautious types amongst us. For those of us who want to know whether those 200 RMB DIY air filtration things you can get over on Taobao actually work. For those of us skeptics who want to double check what our employers are telling us about their stellar indoor air environs over at the office space. And finally for those of us who want to be sure our home environments are optimally fitted out with safeguards to protect our families against an extended stay in a polluted city.