Sat, Apr 27, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Smog taints childhood in Chinese cities

Levels of deadly pollutants up to 40 times the recommended exposure limit are leading Chinese and foreign parents to keep their children inside and to consider leaving China for places with cleaner air

By Edward Wong  /  NY Times News Service, BEIJING

“The elementary schoolchildren don’t miss recess anymore,” Johanson said.

One American mother, Tara Duffy, said she had chosen a pre-kindergarten school for her daughter based in part that the school had air filters in the classrooms. The school, called the 3e International School, also brings in doctors to talk about pollution and bars the children from playing outdoors during increases in smog levels.

“In the past six months, there have been a lot more ‘red flag’ days, and they keep the kids inside,” said Duffy, a writer.

Duffy said she also checked the daily air quality index to decide whether to take her daughter to an outdoor picnic or an indoor play space.

Now, after nine years here, Duffy is leaving China, and she cites the pollution and traffic as major factors.

That calculus is playing out with expatriates across Beijing.

One US couple with a young child discussed the pollution when considering a prestigious foundation job in Beijing, and it was among the reasons they ultimately turned down the offer.

James McGregor, a senior counselor in the Beijing office of APCO Worldwide, a consulting company, said he had heard of an US diplomat with young children who had turned down a posting here. That was despite the fact that the US Department of State provides a 15 percent salary bonus for Beijing that exists partly because of the pollution. The hardship bonus for other Chinese cities, which also suffer from awful air, ranges from 20 percent to 30 percent, except for Shanghai, where it is 10 percent.

“I’ve lived in Beijing 23 years, and my children were brought up here, but if I had young children I’d have to leave,” McGregor said. “A lot of people have started exit plans.”

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