Preparing for Air Pollution in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Air purifiers and air pollution are probably the last things that come to mind when thinking of Mongolia. But maybe it should be the first, given how bad the air there is.

I was living in Beijing during the airpocalypse, so I decided to buy an air purifier. Then I discovered how expensive they are! The air purifier I wanted cost $1,000! 

I did some research and found out that all you need to remove particulate pollution is a fan and a HEPA filter. The HEPA filter is what captures the small sized PM2.5 particles. Even the $1,000 air purifier uses a fan and a HEPA filter to do just this! So I got my hands on a HEPA filter and strapped it to a fan to make own DIY air purifier:

A low cost, effective DIY air purifier for Mongolia

Then I bought a laser particle counter and did tests comparing the DIY air purifiers to the expensive air purifier brands I could find on the market. Here’s what I found averaged over dozens and dozens of tests in my Beijing apartment:

Which purifiers work best Mongolia

All the testing methods and original data are publicly available–check it out! 

After I discovered purifiers could cost just a fraction of what other companies in the purifier market wanted, I started a social enterprise I called Smart Air to help spread the word. My team and I have now shipped over 50,000 low-cost purifiers to people all over China. Woah!

Since then, I’ve received emails from several people in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia asking if we can ship our purifiers there. I never knew how bad the air pollution is there!

High PM2.5 levels blanket Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia in smog every winter

But it’s downright terrible. The black line here is three years of Ulaanbaatar’s small particulate pollution (PM2.5). The red line is what the WHO limit:

Ulaanbaatar air pollution and PM2.5 annual levels

From 2008 to 2011 Ulaanbaatar averaged nearly 150 micrograms of PM2.5! That’s worse than Beijing. In 2014, Beijing averaged 98 micrograms. The graph also shows huge PM2.5 peaks in the winter, while summers are lower. The graph below shows air pollution from 2015 to 2018:

Ulaanbaatar PM2.5 air pollution levels 2015 - 2018

Why is Ulaanbaatar Air Pollution so high during the winter?

Most of Ulaanbaatar’s air pollution comes from coal. In the winter, people across Ulaanbaatar – from the gers in the suburbs to the government heating facilities – are burning coal. This creates the sooty, black pollution levels that start to rise in October every year, then drop off come March when temperatures start warming.

So I packed my bags, carted three huge boxes of fans and filters to the airport, and flew to Ulaanbaatar to host some DIY workshops! 

How to protect yourself from air pollution - workshop in Ulaanbaatar

Mongolians building DIY air purifiers to clean air pollution

New Mongolian owners of finished Original DIY air purifiers

With the help of several people in the capital, I hosted some workshops, and then subsequently launched Smart Air in Mongolia. Since then, we’ve shipped air purifiers, masks, and air pollution monitors to breathers across Ulaanbaatar, helping more people get clean air!

First shipment of cheap yet effective air purifiers for Mongolia

Do air purifiers work in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia?

While I was there, I ran some tests to make sure the DIY air purifier works well in Mongolia too. Here’s what my bedroom in Ulaanbaatar looked like: 

You can see the particle counter on the left and the DIY air purifier on the right.

Here’s what happened to 2.5-micron particles after I turned on the DIY air purifier in my 15 square meter UB bedroom: 

Here’s what happened to the smaller 0.5-micron particles: 

After 1-2 hours, the low-cost DIY air purifier was able to filter out even the tiniest-sized 0.5-micron particles. It did just as well capturing the larger 2.5-micron particles.

Low-cost purifiers make it easier to prepare yourself for Mongolia’s winter air pollution season. Get yourself a low-cost, data-backed air purifier or build your own, and you’re set!

Breathe safe, Mongolia!

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Smart Air low cost purifiers

Smart Air is a social enterprise and certified B-Corp that offers simple, no-nonsense air purifiers and provides free education to protect people from the harms of air pollution. We are proud to be the only certified B-Corp dedicated to fighting air pollution.

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