Is Shanghai a healthy place for families? Healthy might not be the word. Interesting maybe. According to Shanghai Expat members, with air pollution, water quality and food safety being the top concerns. But some forum members have found ways to overcome – or ameliorate – some of the worries. Children in particular caused the most worry for forum members, since they are more vulnerable – and because they suffer long-term damage from some kinds of pollution. Thus parents have special concerns and justfiably so.
“Heavy metals are much more important for children … they are growing bones,” says Mmhm. “If they are exposed to heavy metals, they will lay down the metals in the bones with calcium, creating a lifelong health hazard.”
Shanghai air pollution leaves a thick coat of black dust on every surface – including, presumably, the inside of your lungs. “My 11-year-old daughter is continually struggling with all kind of problems with her respiratory system,” writes Andreas. “We have been through so many tests, doctors and hospitals. The bottom line is pollution.”
His daughter isn’t alone – Andreas says that he feels the health effects of the bad air, as well. Once he leaves Shanghai, however, things usually get better within a week. “I can breathe freely, the continuously blocked nose is gone, and I feel I am having twice the energy,” he says. The constant construction around Shanghai doesn’t help, says Captain_SH. “Before new building go up, old buildings have to be torn down”, he says, sending potentially toxic materials into the air. “Have you had your daily dose of asbestos and lead?”
Don’t Drink the Water
New visitors to Shanghai often complain about the bad taste of local water. It’s technically supposed to be drinkable, but even boiling or filtering doesn’t always get rid of the nasty, musty taste. “Everyone here drinks bottled water, including in your home,” says Mvagusta. Putting Shanghai water through a precipitation reaction will demonstrate the presence of brown sludge in the water, most of it a result of corroding pipes.
“As probably the only person on this site that has access to the water quality testing results I can say that it is not safe to drink,” says Hammerforlife. “If you did so for a short period of time then it shouldn’t do you too much harm. It’s not as bad as some would point out. I still won’t be drinking it any time soon. Restaurants and water bottling companies put the water through heavy-duty filtering, and the results are usually pretty clean.
Serious food issues
Last year’s melamine scare – in which the industrial chemical was found in baby formula and other milk products, killing several babies and makings thousands of others ill – proved to many forum members that Chinese authorities are asleep on the job when it comes to food safety.
Some expats have first-hand experience of water quality problems. “I was supervising some construction in Chongqing a few years ago near a pharmacuetical company,” recalls Hammerforlife. “The stuff they were discharging into the river was so foul that two workers passed out from the fumes and had to be taken to hospital. Fifty yards downstream of where this stuff entered the river a guy was catching fish to sell in the market.” “Who can guarantee the quality of the rest of the food we eat here?” asked Hammerforlife.
Well, there are outlets in Shanghai that are trying to do just that. City Shop, for example, grows its own organic food, says Humac, inviting forum members to visit those gardens to see for themselves. Another outfit, American Garden, grows organic food to sell at local farmers’ markets.
“They have been around for about 15 years now, long before organic became a fashion,” says Andreas. “My wife sells meat at the farmer’s markets, and knows their products from there. We are almost always buying from them now. Most important for me is that their veggies are not drenched in pesticides.”
Shanghai is as positive as you make it
At the end of the day, expats don’t normally move to Shanghai in order to enjoy the natural environment and fresh air. “Most families are just here for the same reason they are in other Asian countries — to do a job,” says Andreas. There are ways to improve quality of life in other ways, he adds. “I made great friends here, and can do a lot of sports and hobbies,” he says. “Shanghai is as positive as you make it.”
Even when it comes to children, there are aspects to Shanghai that more than make up for the air quality. “Bringing kids here is a huge gift you could be giving them to carry all their lives”. “First they’ll learn how huge the world seems, then how small it really is.”
In the end, Shanghai suffers from issues just about anyplace that calls home to 20 Million people would have. Its up to each person to take steps to be safe and stay healthy.