Mongolians sip 'oxygen cocktails' to cope with smog

A smog-filled day in Ulaanbaatar on Jan 6 (above). Mongolia's capital topped New Delhi and Beijing as the world's most polluted capital in 2016, Unicef said in a report. Residents have taken to sipping "lung teas" and "oxygen cocktails" (below), beli
A smog-filled day in Ulaanbaatar on Jan 6 (above). Mongolia's capital topped New Delhi and Beijing as the world's most polluted capital in 2016, Unicef said in a report. Residents have taken to sipping "lung teas" and "oxygen cocktails", believing the concoctions will protect them from air pollution, although health officials say there is no evidence that they work.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
A smog-filled day in Ulaanbaatar on Jan 6 (above). Mongolia's capital topped New Delhi and Beijing as the world's most polluted capital in 2016, Unicef said in a report. Residents have taken to sipping "lung teas" and "oxygen cocktails" (below), beli
A smog-filled day in Ulaanbaatar on Jan 6. Mongolia's capital topped New Delhi and Beijing as the world's most polluted capital in 2016, Unicef said in a report. Residents have taken to sipping "lung teas" and "oxygen cocktails" (above), believing the concoctions will protect them from air pollution, although health officials say there is no evidence that they work.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

ULAANBAATAR • Fed up with the smog in Mongolia's capital, residents have resorted to sipping "lung" tea and "oxygen cocktails" in a desperate bid to protect themselves from pollution, despite health officials saying there is no evidence they work.

Ulaanbaatar topped New Delhi and Beijing as the world's most polluted capital in 2016, Unicef said in a report warning of a health crisis that has put every child and pregnancy at risk.

With residents of so-called ger (slum) districts using coal stoves to cook and heat their homes in the world's coldest capital, where temperatures can dip as low as minus 40 deg C, pollution has skyrocketed.

While most of the pollution comes from stoves in the slums, road transport and power plants add to the toxic mix.

On Jan 30, air pollution was 133 times higher than the safe limit set by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Unicef reported that cases of respiratory infections have nearly tripled and pneumonia is now the second leading cause of death for children under five.

Worried parents have held protests to press the government to take action. But some businesses are cashing in, even though a WHO official says there is no evidence that such anti-smog products work.

Advertisements in Mongolia boast that "drinking just one oxygen cocktail is equal to a three-hour-walk in a lush forest".

At the produce section of the State Department Store, blue cans of oxygen called "Life Is Air" are on sale for US$2 (S$2.70), and promise to turn a glass of juice into a foamy, sweet "oxygen cocktail" after spraying some into a glass through a special straw.

Other stores and pharmacies have oxygen cocktail machines that resemble coffee makers and can turn a juice into a frothy drink for US$1. Pregnant women are among the most avid customers of the Russian-made product, with some saying they are following their doctor's orders.

The average level of PM2.5 particles - which penetrate deep into the lungs - was 75 micrograms per cubic m last year, or three times the exposure recommended by the WHO for a 24-hour period.

But Ms Maria Neira, the head of the WHO's public health department, said the "real solution" to protect the lungs and the cardiovascular system was to reduce air pollution and avoid exposure to it.

"The business community will offer plenty of those solutions," Ms Neira said, referring to the oxygen cocktails and lung teas.

"We don't have any scientific evidence whether they provide any benefit," she said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 03, 2018, with the headline 'Mongolians sip 'oxygen cocktails' to cope with smog'. Print Edition | Subscribe