A CHINESE entrepreneur is selling fresh air in soft drink cans, similar to bottled drinking water, as north China is once again choking in toxic smog.
The concentration of airborne PM 2.5 particulates – the smallest and most deadly – went off the chart on Tuesday morning for the second time this month, according to the pollution gauge at the US embassy in Beijing.
The Air Quality Index, designed by the US Environmental Protection Agency, cannot cope with levels beyond 500, 20 times the World Health Organisation air quality standard. The embassy gauge had been hovering in the ”hazardous” 300-500 range since Friday.
Chen Guangbiao, whose wealth is estimated at $740 million according to the Hurun Report, sells his cans of air for five yuan (A75¢) each. It comes with atmospheric flavours including pristine Tibet, post-industrial Taiwan and revolutionary Yan’an, the Communist Party’s early base area.
Mr Chen said he wanted to make a point that China’s air was turning so bad that the idea of bottled fresh air was no longer fanciful. ”If we don’t start caring for the environment then after 20 or 30 years our children and grandchildren might be wearing gas masks and carrying oxygen tanks,” Mr Chen said.
Earlier this month the concentration of airborne PM 2.5 particulates in Beijing and other cities reached the highest levels since measurements began, comparable to those recorded during the infamous London Fog.
The event dominated even state-controlled news outlets, hospitals reported a sharp rise in respiratory-related admissions and political leaders took emergency pollution-reduction measures and vowed to tackle the underlying problems.
Since then the Beijing skyline has remained mostly bleak, with visibility dropping as low as 200 metres several times in the past few days. NASA satellite photos show a thick grey haze has rendered the densely populated plains of north China invisible from outer space.
As the smog worsens, residents of Beijing have begun snapping up products to survive the toxic air.
Chris Buckley, proprietor of Torana Clean Air Centre, said there had been a particularly dramatic increase in the flow of local Chinese customers through his stores, reflecting more open coverage in China’s tightly controlled media as well as the severity of the pollution.
”We used to be told in days gone by that ‘it’s mist and fog’ but I think the game is up now,” said Mr Buckley, who sells air purifying machines and pollution masks.
With SANGHEE LIU
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.