After four years out of Vietnam, I have finally returned “home” to Saigon. There have been much changes to the city. Development seems quite higher than when I first left in 2013. You see new apartment buildings and shopping centers across the city. More cars and motorbikes clog the streets. More factories have moved from China to Vietnam due to lower labor costs. Vietnam also has up to 20 coal power plants with plans to construct three more. One consequence of all this is the dirtying of the air. It will continue to get worse.
Spending a year in Shanghai, China, opened my eyes to the consequences of air pollution. Within weeks of moving to Shanghai, a year ago, I purchased air purifiers for both my bedroom and living room. I ordered PM 2.5 masks for when I was walking outside on bad air days. I kept updated on the quality of air by downloading the AirVisual app on my phone. I bought a couple air quality indicator (AQI) readers such as the AirVisual Node and LaserEggs. Twenty-four seven, I kept track of the air quality inside and outside of my apartment. Then I brought one of the LaserEggs with me to Saigon on one of my short holidays. The results shocked me.
Shanghai’s air can be quite bad according to local Expats. Fortunately for me, I arrived at a time where the air started to become cleaner. Yes, there were days where the air was 150 AQI (US) which is unhealthy by US standards. Most of the time I was in Shanghai, the air was actually below that. I never wore my PM 2.5 mask around on the majority of my days in Shanghai. Flying back to Saigon was a different story. The air, at times, was much worse then in Shanghai. I found that I was wearing my 3M PM 2.5 mask quite a bit in Saigon when out on the motorbike. I remember getting a reading of 147 AQI (US) on my Node last January. When I was away in Shanghai, I saw many readings above 150 AQI (US) for Saigon. Prolonged exposure to this pollution will increase your risk for lung cancer.It will also increase your blood pressure.
Furthermore, exposure to air pollution inside homes can be much worse than outside. For Vietnam, many houses and apartments have “open” roofs or windows for ventilation. There are also gaps in the doors and windows in all types of homes and buildings. Even before the air pollution got real bad in Saigon, there was a dust problem. I lived in a villa in the Thu Duc District that needed to be swept and mopped 7 times. That was the magic number to keep a person’s feet from becoming black. You will always see workers, house cleaners, students, etc., dusting and cleaning. It is a norm in Saigon and Vietnam in general. With the ever rising PM 2.5 and PM 10 levels, these same gaps and openings will make indoor air quality worse.
Back in Shanghai, my apartment always had clean “purified” indoor air except in the kitchen. I ran my BlueAir 203 air purifier in my living room and my SmartAir Cannon in the living room. Both air purifiers were running 24 hours a day. With cheap “subsidized” electricity in China, you could do that. I had three AQI readers keeping track of the indoor air for all my rooms. Since I did not run an air purifier in the kitchen, it would have a higher AQI reading than the outdoor air.
When I left Shanghai for Vietnam, I had DHL’d my BlueAir to Saigon. I left the SmartAir Cannon in Shanghai since I already had three SmartAir Original fans in the city. I also brought about two years worth of filters to Saigon on previous trips. I also should have nearly 100 PM 2.5 masks of various brands. I came prepared to deal with the air pollution in Saigon. After 10 days, I got my SmartAir 203 running in my bedroom/office. Before it arrived, my bedroom indoor was around 60-80 AQI on my Node. Roughly the same reading as the outdoor air.
I will place the Original in the other bedroom for testing. I will place one Original in the kitchen and another one in the living room. The kitchen has a large opening in the window for the air conditioner. Actually, the window pane is missing. The living room has a large gap under the front door. These are the two main sources of dust and bad air. I already have a possible solution to close the door gap. For the missing window pane in the kitchen, I have no solution yet.
For my bedroom/office, the BlueAir is working great. The indoor air in my bedroom is currently at 1 AQI. The C02 level is a bit high but I am able to remove most of it when I turn on the ventilator. The outdoor air in Saigon has been around 77 AQI which is moderate. By the dry season, roughly in October, it will go back to 150 AQI.
Since electricity is not subsidized in Vietnam as in China, I do not plan to keep my air purifiers running all day. I will keep a close eye on energy consumption of my BlueAir and Cannons. For me, I want at least 8-12 hours of clean air when I sleep. The BlueAir is able to clean the air in a small room in about 20 minutes. The Originals will need 1-2 hours to do the same work. I have used the Originals three different times in Saigon. They are able to get the indoor air to below 50 AQI which is healthy.
This is my solution in my apartment. I know for the vast majority of Vietnamese and expats in Vietnam, this is not an option. If you live in a nice serviced apartment, the odds of you having an air purification is good. Many office buildings have air conditioning units that also clean the air. Sadly, the common room air conditioners cannot purify the air. I will link a recent SmartAir article that shows this.
In the meantime, if you wanting an air purifier but cannot afford an expensive unit on the market, just wait. A friend and I are forming a social enterprise to promote clean technology in Southeast Asia. We are going to provide cheap DIY SmartAir air purifiers in Vietnam. They should be available before the dry season starts. We are still testing some filters and fans to use. Pay attention to this blog for updates on when we will provide these DIY air purifiers in Vietnam.