Hazardous Air

Just how bad is Beijing's notoriously nasty pollution this week?

The thick smog is so foul that hundreds of flights scheduled to leave and land at the Capital International Airport on Monday and Tuesday were diverted, cancelled and delayed. And so bad that even official Chinese media is starting to question the government's line that the nasty pollution is simply slightly dirty "fog." The official China Daily newspaper, although hedging a little bit when talking about what exactly is in the capital's air, noted today that Beijing's lung cancer rate has increased by 60 percent in the past 10 years, even though the smoking rate has not increased.

But the Twitter feed linked to special air monitoring equipment from the US embassy in Beijing tells a more stark picture about what's going on with the skies over the Chinese capital.

Writing on China Dialogue, environmental consultant Steven Q Andrews said an analysis of the @BeijingAir Twitter feed from the US embassy showed that air pollution in Beijing was at unhealthy level 80 percent of the time over the past two years. China's own assessment of the pollution is far sunnier, with officials apparently worried that telling citizens what is in the air could lead to social unrest. The government has agreed to start measuring some of the pollutants it doesn't currently track, but not for another four years.