Joint @StateDept and EPA Embassy Air Quality Fellowship Application Now Open

Posted: 1:22 am EDT
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Via state.gov:

Applications are now being accepted for a joint U.S. Department of State (DOS) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) air quality monitoring fellowship program. This fellowship is a vital component of DOS and EPA’s collaborative efforts to help improve the availability of continuous air quality data worldwide.

The fellows will volunteer for one year of collaborative technical and/or policy support for an “adopted” U.S. embassy that is implementing an air quality monitoring program. The fellow is expected to provide 10-20 hours of virtual support monthly to their host embassy. There may be opportunities for paid overseas travel to visit the embassy, collaborate with the host foreign government, and provide training to U.S. staff and other entities.

The ideal candidate is a U.S. citizen who has air quality monitoring expertise and/or an understanding of policy efforts and health impacts. Information about the program is available at http://state.gov/dosair, and the direct link to the application is http://fluidsurveys.com/surveys/state-gdi/fellowship-application/. The application period is now open and will end on April 8, 2016. Please note that this is a separate fellowship from the Embassy Science Fellowship program.

Announced by Secretary of State John Kerry and Administrator Gina McCarthy in February 2015, the DOS/EPA partnership recognizes air pollution as a serious and growing health threat worldwide. Yet, in many areas, real-time air quality data is unavailable. In 2016, the DOS/EPA program will provide data from 24 U.S. missions overseas to EPA’s AirNow platform. This data can help U.S. citizens and government personnel overseas make informed health decisions and mitigate health risks from air pollution, as well as enhance the availability of ambient air quality data and expertise around the world.

For further information, please contact dosair@state.gov and visit state.gov/dosair (all lowercase).

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Drowning in Smoggy Delhi: There’s No Blue Sky, So Where’s Blueair? (Updated)

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— Domani Spero

In December last year, Hindustan Times reported on how air and water pollution plagued Indian cities:

One in three people in India live in critically-polluted areas that have noxious levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and lung-clogging particulate matter larger than 10 micron (PM10) in size. Of the 180 cities monitored by India’s Central Pollution Control Board in 2012, only two — Malapuram and Pathanamthitta in Kerala — meet the criteria of low air pollution (50% below the standard).

The NYT also reported in February last year  that “The thick haze of outdoor air pollution common in India today is the nation’s fifth-largest killer.”

NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE MODIS Rapid Response

NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE MODIS Rapid Response
Photo from January 11, 2013
(click on image to read more)

The State/OIG report from 2011 says that the health environment for US Embassy employees in India is “challenging, punctuated by frequent respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses.”  That’s putting it mildly.  Reports about the air pollution in India is nothing new but has not been as widely reported as the “fog” in China. That’s probably because we have @BeijingAir monitoring crazy bad air in China and no @DelhiAir to report on India’s bad air.  NYT reported this week that “The United States does not release similar readings from its New Delhi Embassy, saying the Indian government releases its own figures.” Click here to see NYT’s follow-up report why.

The Times of India notes that “Lately, a very bad air day in Beijing is about an average one in New Delhi” and cites disturbing comparative numbers between the two cities:

Clean Air Asia, an advocacy group, found that another common measure of pollution known as PM10, for particulate matter less than 10 micrometers in diameter, averaged 117 in Beijing in a six-month period in 2011. In New Delhi, the Center for Science and Environment used government data and found that an average measure of PM10 in 2011 was 281, nearly two-and-a-half times higher.

Of course, FS folks have been living and hearing about this for years.  Haven’t you heard — “If you have asthma or other breathing issues, think long and hard before committing to New Delhi?”  Last year, an FS member said, “Very unhealthy, especially for young children, during winter when dung, garbage, and everything else is burnt for warmth, and smog traps it within Delhi.”  In 2010, somebody assigned to New Delhi warned that “Asthma and skin disorders are on the rise.

We understand that you don’t get to see the blue sky for a couple of months. In 2011, somebody called it, “the worst in the world.”

This past weekend, Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy and Columbia University’s Center for International Earth Science Information Network released its 2014 Environmental Performance Index (EPI) at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland.   The Environmental Performance Index (EPI) ranks how well countries perform on high-priority environmental issues in two broad policy areas: protection of human health from environmental harm and protection of ecosystems.

The announcement made special mention of improvement in India’s overall performance but cites dramatic declines on air quality. The announcement notes that “India’s air quality is among the worst in the world, tying China in terms of the proportion of the population exposed to average air pollution levels exceeding World Health Organization thresholds.

India ranks 155th out of 178 countries in its efforts to address environmental challenges, according to the 2014 Environmental Performance Index (EPI). India performs the worst among other emerging economies including, China, which ranks 118th, Brazil, at 77th, Russia, at 73rd, and South Africa at 72nd.
[…]
In particular, India’s air quality is among the worst in the world, tying China in terms of the proportion of the population exposed to average air pollution levels exceeding World Health Organization thresholds.

“Although India is an ‘emerging market’ alongside China, Brazil, Russia, and South Africa, its environment severely lags behind these others,” said Angel Hsu of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy and lead author of the report.“ Very low GDP per capita coupled with the second highest population in the world means India’s environmental challenge is more formidable than that faced by other emerging economies.”

Image via http://epi.yale.edu

Image via http://epi.yale.edu

This is not a health hazard that just showed up yesterday. So we were surprised to hear that at a town hall meeting at Embassy New Delhi, a medical professional reportedly said that none of the government issued embassy purifiers at the mission do the fine particles.

Wait, the US Embassy in New Delhi issued air purifiers that do not work for the  finest particles — the particles that do the most damage?

How did that happen?

Some folks apparently are now buying their own air purifiers. A mission member reportedly spent $1600 for purifiers to allow a breath of clean air inside the house.

Dear US Embassy India, we would have liked an official comment, but your public affairs ninja ignores email inquiries.  Call me, maybe — we’d like to know which smart dolt spent all that money for decorative air purifiers.

On a related note, early this month, China Daily reported that in December last year, the US Embassy in Beijing ordered 2,000 air purifiers  for its employees in the country from Blueair, a Swedish manufacturer:

The cheapest model from Blueair, the Blueair 203, costs 3,590 yuan ($591) from Torana Clean Air, Blueair’s official seller in Beijing, while it sells for $329 on the Best Buy and Amazon websites in the US.  The order placed for air purifiers by the US embassy was handled by the Swedish company’s American supplier, and the unit price was not disclosed.

We don’t know what types of purifiers were issued at US Embassy India.  Popular brands like Blueair, Panasonic, Daikin, Sharp, Yadu, Honeywell are compared here as used in China via myhealthbeijing.  There is also a review of air purifiers by the Consumer Report that should be worth looking into; the report is only available to subscribers.  Or check with MED which should have this information available.

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U.S. Consulate General Shanghai Launches Air Quality Monitor

Over the weekend, the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai launched its own air quality monitor with hourly updates via Twitter.

Here is the consulate’s statement on its website:

In line with the Embassy’s practice of making air quality data available to the American community in Beijing, the U.S. Consulate Shanghai has installed an air quality monitor to measure the concentration of particulates (PM 2.5) as an indicator of overall air quality in the area surrounding its Huai Hai Middle Road offices. The monitor is an unofficial resource for the health of the Consulate community. Citywide analysis of air quality cannot be done using readings from a single machine.  Particulates less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter (PM 2.5) are referred to as “fine” particulates and are believed to pose the largest health risks. PM 2.5 particulates are of concern since they are small enough to get into the lungs and even the blood stream. For more information on PM 2.5, please visit http://www.epa.gov/ttn/naaqs/pm/pm25_index.html.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has developed a formula to convert PM 2.5 readings into an air quality index (AQI) value than can help inform health-related decisions (see chart). For example, an AQI value of 50 represents good air quality with little potential to affect public health, while an AQI value over 300 represents hazardous air quality. Please note that AQI is different from the Air Pollution Index (API) used in China. For more information on AQI and how it is calculated, please visit http://www.airnow.gov/index.cfm?action=aqibasics.aqi.

The monitor’s measurements, expressed in the form of PM 2.5 concentration (micrograms per cubic meter, ug/m3) and corresponding AQI, are available on Twitter at http://twitter.com/cgshanghaiair.

Since its debut on May 15, all readings have been “unhealthy.” Which is not good but it could be worse, really.

WSJ’s China Real Time Report writes:

The “good” news for Shanghai residents: The air is worse elsewhere, namely in Beijing. No surprise there, as Beijing, a city far from the coast and subject to seasonal sand blasts from the Gobi Desert, is where the Embassy famously once designated the air as “crazy bad.”

The average PM2.5 concentration was roughly twice as bad in Beijing as it was in Shanghai over the first four periods during which the Shanghai consulate provided average readings. Between noon Sunday and midday Monday, Shanghai had average PM2.5 readings of 39 micrograms per cubic meter and an index of 107, which put it at unhealthy for sensitive groups. Beijing was plain unhealthy during that same period, averaging 77.3 micrograms per cubic meter and 158 on the index.

The consulate’s air monitor makes it the third USG monitor in China in addition to US Embassy Beijing and USCG Guangzhou.  They are all in Twitter:

http://twitter.com/cgshanghaiair.

http://twitter.com/#!/Guangzhou_Air

http://twitter.com/#!/beijingair

Here is the chart on the monitor readings:


Domani Spero