Audio Postcard: Smoggy Streets Of Shanghai

Dec 11, 2013
Originally published on December 17, 2013 9:51 am

NPR’s Frank Langfitt brings Here & Now an audio postcard from the streets of Shanghai.

Last week, the smog in Shanghai, China, reached hazardous levels. On Friday, smog set records in Shanghai. The Air Quality Index soared over 600, which is officially “beyond index,” or off-the-charts awful.

And on Saturday morning, there was essentially a smog white-out, according to Langfitt. Visibility was down to about 40 feet.

The environmental authority got sick of putting out so many air-quality alerts that they decided to simply adjust the standards downward so there would not be as many.


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And as we said, if that terminal is built, some of the coal is going to be headed to China. One result of all the coal China is burning is smog. Last week, the smog in Shanghai reached hazardous levels. It has cleared up a bit. And NPR's Shanghai correspondent Frank Langfitt ventured out to send us this audio postcard.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Cumulatively, I've lived in Shanghai about eight years. And last week was the worst pollution by far I'd ever seen. Statistically, the Air Quality Index was over (coughing) - I'm not making that up. I'm genuinely sick from the pollution. The Air Quality Index was over 600, and this is an index that actually only goes up to 500. It was really, really hazardous. And so we decided to keep the kids home from school. We stayed inside our apartment, and we just blasted these four air purifiers that we had. And when I did have to go out, I wore a surgical mask and I breathed really shallowly because the pollution, the tiny particulates that are out here, they get deep inside your lungs. You can't get rid of them, and they increase the risk of cancer.

In the mornings when I wake up sometimes during these periods, I don't actually want to open the curtains because I'm afraid of what I'm going to see. And on Saturday morning, I woke up and I looked out and I actually couldn't see anything at all. It was a white-out. I live on the 29th floor. Not only couldn't I see the ground, I could only see a balcony next door, and there's a 50-story building right nearby. I couldn't see that at all. And I was so depressed that I just kind of wanted to get on the plane and get out of here. But, of course, all the planes were grounded because pilots can't possibly see.

The truth is, Shanghai has become a really spectacular city in many ways. We live in an area where there's some of the tallest buildings in the world, and the skyline looks terrific. And in the last few days, the sun has come back out. The city looks great again. But after an experience like this, you're sort of now filled with kind of a dread. When are you going to get hit with this kind of smog again and be in a position where it's hard for you to actually work, your kids can't go to school and you really can't go outside?

JOBSON: NPR's Frank Langfitt on the streets of Shanghai in China. And, Meghna, I'm actually at the photo that Frank sent us - it's up at - of his office, looking out the window. I guess it's looking out the window because all I could see is just white.


It's pretty dismal.

JOBSON: Yeah. Wow. Unbelievable. You can check it out yourself at This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.