Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia Air Quality: PM 2.5 Off the Charts X(

Keep track of UB air now!

*AQI readings will depend on where the monitoring post is set up. It will be higher near areas of high traffic, and/or near ger districts
chingiss square 1chingiss square 2Air quality in Chinggis Square on 2 different days. Courtesy of Smart Air: https://www.facebook.com/smartairfilters/?fref=ts

I must admit: like a lot of Mongolians, I never suspected that the air quality in Mongolia was bad enough to be world-ranking. Further, I always looked at the rankings that are released by multiple researches, including the World Health Organization, as dubious. My logic was that Ulaanbaatar, while a cold city that needs to be heated constantly in the winter, could never reach the nebulous records that Beijing seems to set each year. How could UB, a city that does not process and produce close to anything what Beijing puts out, be among the worst cities for air pollution?

Well, I was wrong. When I went home for a couple weeks this month, I was astounded to find that the AQI for that day in a traffic-heavy part of town was above 1000.
X( <– death emoji.


A lot of us who live in China religiously check the Air Quality Index (AQI) to know what to expect for the day. AQI is the set standard on which we determine whether the air is “healthy” or “unhealthy.” Anywhere from 0-50 is considered “good.”

While once talking about the air quality with a student from France, she told me that if the AQI in her hometown ever reached 50 (which it seldom did), a red alert would be announced and residents told to keep inside. This may just be apocryphal, but it demonstrates clearly the difference between living in a developed and in an under developed county.

AQI in Ulaanbaatar, on the other hand, is currently hovering near 300.
X( <– death emoji again.

Here’s the full table for your perusal.

AQI Air Pollution Level Health Implications Cautionary Statement (for PM2.5)
0 – 50 Good Air quality is considered satisfactory, and air pollution poses little or no risk None
51 -100 Moderate Air quality is acceptable; however, for some pollutants there may be a moderate health concern for a very small number of people who are unusually sensitive to air pollution. Active children and adults, and people with respiratory disease, such as asthma, should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.
101-150 Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups Members of sensitive groups may experience health effects. The general public is not likely to be affected. Active children and adults, and people with respiratory disease, such as asthma, should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.
151-200 Unhealthy Everyone may begin to experience health effects; members of sensitive groups may experience more serious health effects Active children and adults, and people with respiratory disease, such as asthma, should avoid prolonged outdoor exertion; everyone else, especially children, should limit prolonged outdoor exertion
201-300 Very Unhealthy Health warnings of emergency conditions. The entire population is more likely to be affected. Active children and adults, and people with respiratory disease, such as asthma, should avoid all outdoor exertion; everyone else, especially children, should limit outdoor exertion.
300+ Hazardous Health alert: everyone may experience more serious health effects Everyone should avoid all outdoor exertion


why? Why? Whyyy?

According to “A Study on Air Pollution in Ulaanbaatar City, Mongolia,” published online April 2014 in the Journal of Geoscience and Environment Protection, [http://www.scirp.org/journal/gep
http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/gep.2014.22017] the main causes of air pollution include:

  • coal burning in gers
  • industrial boilers
  • dust emissions of construction
  • power plants
  • improved stoves
  • household heating systems
  • brick kiln operations
  • public and private transports
  • road re-suspension
  • fly ash re-suspension
  • garbage burning

Of these sources of air pollution, during the wintertime, the biggest cases of high AQI are smog in the ger districts, motor vehicles and power plants. Even more bad news, due to the geological location of Ulaanbaatar, the city between the four mountains, air pollutants become trapped near the ground in a phenomenon known as thermal inversion. This phenomenon is enhanced during the winter. Bad news for us.

Good thing we live in a democracy

…because that means we have the power to pressure the government into making the necessary changes. Children and the elderly suffer the most from these hazardous levels. Rate of pneumonia and respiratory illnesses, particularly in young children, have risen these past few years. Here’s what the government can enact immediately, as recommended by the study:

  • Efficiently improved power plant scrubbers;
  • Efficiently improved PP-4 electrostatic precipitators;
  • Use of flue gas desulphurization technologies for sulfur control in power plants;
  • Efficient NOx control in power plants;
  • Smoke-less coal for burning in ger districts;
  • Improved stoves for ger families;
  • Gasification and solar heaters for ger families;
  • Ash pond maintenance—brick making;
  • Reduction of local garbage burning;
  • Gasification of urban and solid waste;
  • Paved road dust reduction—sweepers;
  • Use of solar heaters for winter camping and housing;
  • Abolishing of small scale boilers for heating;
  • Promotion of public transportation;
  • Encouragement of vehicle restriction through license plate numbers;
  • Inspection and elimination of older and too old vehicles;
  • Transfer of garbage/waste burning factories to eastern part of the city.

Finally, I highly recommend reading the study, as well as getting air filters for your homes and air filter masks for when you’re outside and the AQI is above 200.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s