Severe air pollution forces China school to build recess dome

Tuesday, February 25, 2014 - 12:24pm

Beijing has been suffering through a rare orange level warning for pollution in recent days.

It’s the government's second-worst rating.

A school for international families is taking some extraordinary measures to help students breathe clean air.

Recess at the international school of Beijing.

So where are the students?

All 1,900 of them, banned from going outside because the air is so bad.

So bad, so often, the school's built an enormous dome to scrub out the pollution.

The dome cost around $5 million to build, and took nine months. It has a soft Teflon coated roof and the entire thing is pressurized, all so that these children can play in Beijing.

Housing a soccer field and basketball courts, it's their strange reality of growing up china.

“It's usually grey outside,” Hanna, a student said.

“Sometimes, it's like yellow,” Emily, a student said.

Hanna and Emily Merritt know how to recognize a bad air day, and why they need the dome.

“No gunk in your lungs,” Emily explained.

Why can't kids play outside?

“There are days here in Beijing, and sometimes a string of days in Beijing where the air outside is at a hazardous level,” Gerrick Monroe, the COO/CFO of the International School of Beijing told CNN.

Tiny pollution particles threaten health the most because they get into the lungs, so they seal the air in and clean it with three giant filters, monitoring air quality levels twice a day at 25 spots around the school.

In the past ten days alone, the pollution levels outside have been up to 12 times the world health organization's acceptable rate.

(Reporter): “It could be dangerous to go outside?”

(Monroe): “It could be dangerous. Prolonged exposure, especially as you are exercising out in those elements, has proven to be unhealthy and especially unhealthy for younger children with developing lungs. Most kids in other places if they wanted to run around to get some exercise they can go outside.”

Hanna and Emily have to wear their facemasks whenever they venture out.

Their dad is a school administrator here.

“We love the school, we love the work environment, we love the education our girls are getting. Probably put in anywhere else we wouldn't hesitate to stick around,” Matthew Merritt, the school’s Curriculum Coordinator, told CNN.

But after six years in Beijing, he says the air quality has become a deal breaker.

They’re moving back home to the states.

“Raising our kids with a lifestyle that is important to them,” Merritt said.

It seems that even the extraordinary measures they've taken here aren't always enough.

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