S.F. Air Quality Officially as Bad as Beijing

Air Quality Index figures in San Francisco match those in Beijing, China after a week of soot from the North Bay fires.

The bad taste, funky smell, and curious haze in the air in the Bay Area is worse than you think. According to data from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, San Francisco’s Air Quality Index — the metric used by the Environmental Protection Agency to measure particulate pollutants in the air — is currently right at the level of the infamously smoggy city of Beijing, China.

Here’s a look at the current air quality conditions on the unlucky afternoon of Friday, Oct. 13, 2017. You’ll see that virtually all of San Francisco’s air is currently ranked as “Unhealthy” with an Air Quality Index measure of 162. (The lower the Air Quality Index score the better, with 0 being ideal.) Meanwhile in Beijing, Bloomberg reports that Beijing “clocked in at 165,” giving San Francisco and Beijing virtually the same score.

Air Quality Index measures the volume of “particles with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers” in the air. We have to remember we’re not just breathing the particulates on burnt trees and wood, but also of plastics, electronics, and other hazardous materials burnt in the North Bay wildfires.

“The EPA urged children, the elderly and people with heart or lung disease to avoid heavy exertion,” our sister publication the Examiner reports. “City officials are urging the public to wear protective masks.”

It could be much worse. Parts of Napa, Sonoma, and Solano Counties are currently registering “Very Unhealthy” levels of 201-300 on the Air Quality Index. And of course, many residents of those areas are losing their homes and being evacuated  — which makes air quality seem like a pretty quaint issue.

And to be fair to Beijing, China, it is not the smoggiest city in the world. According to New Scientist, that “honor” belongs to Delhi, India, where the Air Quality Index is at 200, and often goes higher.

Feeling the effects? SF Weekly has a list of healthy tips for dealing with the poor air quality.


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