China entrepreneurs cash in on air pollution
An unprecedented wave of pollution throughout China (dubbed the "airpocalypse" or "airmageddon" by headline writers) has spawned an almost entirely new industry.
The biggest ticket item is a huge dome that looks like a cross between the Biosphere and an overgrown wedding tent. Two of them recently went up at the International School of Beijing, one with six tennis courts, another large enough to harbor kids playing soccer and badminton and shooting hoops simultaneously Friday afternoon.
The contraptions are held up with pressure from the system pumping in fresh air. Your ears pop when you go in through one of three revolving doors that maintain a tight air lock.
The antipollution dome is the joint creation of a Shenzhenbased manufacturer of outdoor enclosures and a California company, Valenciabased UVDI, that makes air filtration and disinfection systems for hospitals, schools, museums and airports, including the new international terminal at Los Angeles International Airport.
Although the technologies aren't new, this is the first time they've been put together specifically to keep out pollution, the manufacturers say.
"So far there is no better way to solve the pollution problem," said Xiao Long, the head of the Shenzhen company, Broadwell Technologies.
On a recent day when the fine particulate matter in the air reached 650 micrograms per cubic meter, well into the hazardous range, the measurement inside was 25. Before the dome, the international school, like many others, had to suspend outdoor activities on high pollution days. By U.S. standards, readings below 50 are considered "good" and those below 100 are considered "moderate."
Since air pollution skyrocketed in midJanuary, Xiao said, orders for domes were pouring in from schools, government sports facilities and wealthy individuals who want them in their backyards. He said domes measuring more than 54,000 square feet each cost more than $1 million.
"This is a product only for China. You don't have pollution this bad in California," Xiao said.
Because it's not possible to put a dome over all of Beijing, where air quality is the worst, people are taking matters into their own hands.
Not since the 2003 epidemic of SARS have face masks been such hot sellers. Many manufacturers are reporting record sales of devices varying from hightech neoprene masks with exhalation valves, designed for urban bicyclists, that cost up to $50 each, to cheap cloth masks (some in stripes, polka dots, paisley and some emulating animal faces).