Residents of China’s major cities are becoming increasingly accustomed to red alerts signaling that their dark grey air has become too polluted to breath. But what kind of alert should be issued when the air covering your city is pink? Hot? Shocking? Commie?
Air the color of pigs is nothing to squeal about as the residents of Nanjing in eastern China found out last week. While Beijing and other northern cities were blanketed under heavy smog at the red alert level, Nanjing’s sky in the late evening suddenly turned bright pink. A double sense of panic hit as everyone literally held their breath while officials determined if the pink air was a special kind of atmospheric hazard or just the normal unbreathable Chinese air.
The pink air was definitely dangerous. The air quality index registered at 221 (red alert level is 200) and the PM2.5 levels (a measure of particulate matter suspended in the air – particulate matter includes dust, dirt, soot, smoke, and liquid mist) exceeded 900 micrograms per cubic meter (500 is considered hazardous).
Cough-cough … OK, that sounds bad but the Chinese are used to wearing face masks. What about that pink color? Is the government trying to give the smog a more pleasing color and scent? Cotton candy perhaps?
Fortunately, the pink color had a natural and non-hazardous (except for the smog) explanation.
The pink coloring should be the result of the combination of sunset glow and smog, it is not caused by special pollutants.
That was the report from Professor Liu Hongnian of the Atmospheric Science Department at Nanjing University, who went on to point out that “Smog only has three colors, and that’s grey, white and brown.”
Many Nanjing residents choked on this explanation, as did atmospheric scientists in the U.S. and Germany who think the color could be from a new type of potentially dangerous smog particles.
Red sky at morning, sailors take warning; red sky at night, sailors' delight. Pink sky anytime … the people of Nanjing wants some better answers.