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January 13, 2014

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Families emigrating to escape city pollution

A SHANGHAI native is preparing to emigrate to Britain this year to escape the air pollution that she says is damaging her young daughter’s health.

The woman, who only wanted to be identified as Xiao Zi, is pregnant with her second child. She says the effects of air pollution on the city’s children are becoming a big concern.

Local children are kept at home instead of going to school on smoggy days, outdoor activities have been reduced and more kids are taking medication for related ailments, said the housewife.

Foremost among Xiao Zi’s concerns is her three-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Jennifer.

“Every time my daughter coughs, my heart trembles,” Xiao Zi told Shanghai Daily.

Jennifer has spent two thirds of the time she was supposed to be at kindergarten seeing doctors and getting treatment for a persistent cough.

Xiao Zi is sure air pollution is the culprit since all allergen test results were negative.

“I know she wants to go to the kindergarten. She is unhappy at home and blames herself for always being ill,” the mother said.

Xiao Zi is determined that her second child won’t suffer the same health problems.

“My husband and I don’t want our children to spend their childhoods taking medicines, so we’ve decided to move as quickly as possible,” she said.

“We can’t risk our children’s health.”

Xiao Zi is not alone in quitting Shanghai due to the pollution.

Coughing and sneezing

Zhang Mengqi, who moved with her family to California three months ago, said her three-year-old daughter suffered asthma in Shanghai but the problems disappeared in California.

“I checked the Air Quality Index every morning when I was in Shanghai. Whenever the AQI was over 100, my daughter would have symptoms such as coughing and sneezing,” Zhang said.

Zhang took her daughter to see a top asthma specialist at the city’s Ruijin Hospital, and was told she should take anti-allergy medication containing hormones for at least two years.

The girl also needed to use an atomizer to treat her asthma twice a day.

“My daughter could count from one to 15 when she was less than two years old because she was used to timing the 15 seconds she used the atomizer,” Zhang said.

Zhang said she also restricted her daughter’s outdoor activities and kept an air purifier in her daughter’s room.

“In the past, I was strongly opposed to emigrating because I think Shanghai is a great city for women.

“I could hire an ayi to do the cleaning and enjoy my life shopping, seeing movies and meeting friends,” Zhang said.

“In California, I have to do  things myself. My husband earns about the same here compared to what he earned in Shanghai but we have to pay more tax.”

“However, everything is worth it because my daughter doesn’t need to see doctor anymore. She is healthy and she can even eat ice cream now,” Zhang said.

Meanwhile, back in Shanghai, teachers say days lost to ailments linked to pollution are damaging students’ educations.

At one local school, on average four students are off sick every day in a grade-two class of 34 students, according to Fiona, an English teacher at Jiangsu Road No. 5 Primary School.

Affecting studies

Fiona told Shanghai Daily that students were missing school through colds, fevers and, mostly frequently, coughs.

“Sick leave has greatly affected children’s studies. It’s hard for teachers to ensure everyone keeps up as some children don’t show up in class for a month,” Fiona said.

She said some parents insisted on their children wearing masks in the classroom, which is not good for communications, while constant coughing is also a distraction in class.

Some lessons are affected too. In the past month, the class suspended physical education classes because the government said schools could decide themselves whether to have a class depending on air pollution.

“The children are unhappy about not having PE classes. They have no opportunity to use up their energy and a lack of exercise leaves them vulnerable to disease,” Fiona said.

Meanwhile, Xiao Zi said Jennifer was happy that her family were preparing to start a new life in Britain.

“She tells other people that ‘I’m going to Britain and the air there is very good.’”



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