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20

OCTOBER 2016

|

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

S

mog levels became so elevated in Beijing

last December that the Chinese govern-

ment issued a “red alert” two days in a

row. That announcement forced the clo-

sure of all schools and offices, and brought

factories to a standstill, in an effort to

reduce air pollution over the city.

While air pollution has been slowly

gaining media attention in the past few

years, with stories about “hot spots” like Beijing and New

Delhi raising concern, members of the U.S. Foreign Service

and their families have been living and working in heavily pol-

luted countries around the world for years. In fact, many FSOs

and their families now spend much of their careers at posts

with unsafe air.

Despite recent media coverage of smog alerts and ris-

ing pollution levels, there is surprisingly limited organized

information available concerning what severe air pollution

feels like on a daily basis and possible methods to prevent its

effects. The purpose of this article is to explore air pollution

in more detail and gather insights from FSOs and their family

Many Foreign Service families spend a

significant portion of their lives assigned

to cities with unsafe air. What are the

effects, and what can be done about it?

I

coughed for three long years in Beijing—until we left. Every

day when my kids came in from playing, they stank, not

in a sweaty, kids-playing way, but in a scary chemical way. I

knew the pollution would be bad, but I never expected it to be

that bad. Some days you couldn’t even see out the window. It

was like the thickest fog you’ve ever seen, only gray and black

and stinky. Some nights your eyes would start burning from

the fumes of whatever was floating out there in the dark

.

—Donna Gorman, who served in Beijing

from 2007 to 2010

COVER STORY

PHOTO/GEMMADVORAK;BACKGROUND/ISTOCKPHOTO.COM/USER2547783C_812

THE AIRWE BREATHE:

LIVINGWITH

AIR POLLUTION

BY N I COL E SCHAE F ER -MCDAN I E L