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Expats struggle to breathe easy as smog chokes city

(China Daily)

12:47, January 14, 2013

People in a Beijing gym on Sunday turn to indoor exercise, such as archery, swimming and running, as smog shrouds the city. (China DailyZhu Xingxin)

The lure of opportunity that comes with a job offer in the world's economic powerhouse is clouded by the health risks associated with living in cities stifled by smog.

Among the 3,000 expatriates who spend their free time playing a range of outdoor sports organized by the Shanghai Rugby Club, the daily air pollution ratings dominate pre-match discussions.

The deputy general manager of the club, James King, said that while adults acknowledge poor air quality, they play on.

But parents are becoming increasingly concerned for their children.

"The pollution affects all of the junior sports," King said. "The parents always check the pollution levels from the government (Ministry of Environmental Protection) and those published on the US embassy and consulate website.

"If a game is scheduled under poor air quality we don't cancel it, but teams are sometimes forced to play with less people because some players won't show up.
"Nobody wants the pollution, but it seems there's nothing we can do. We're in a country of super cities and we need the surrounding industries for growth."

Australian Shabi Gul and her Austrian husband, an organic body products importer, have called Shanghai home for the past 13 years. With two children aged under 5, the couple has discussed packing up and moving to cleaner areas in the interests of their kids' health.

"My children seem OK, but do you want your kids to grow up in a place which reports that if you spend time outside it will be hazardous to your health? A lot of parents have the same worry", Gul said.

The mother organizes social family days in Shanghai with her children's school and sporting friends and their parents. At the last event, 20 families were expected to show up for a lunch, but poor air quality meant only half attended.
"That day the Air Quality Index was 290 (a safe level is deemed to be 50 or below)," she said. "It looked bad outside and I also had some misgivings about taking my kids out there. The way parents with young kids feel is that they definitely don't want to expose them to this level of air pollution, especially if they are going to be running around outside. I know it's constantly on people's minds."

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