Background: Many westerners view the pace of Chinese construction as nothing short of miraculous. However, limited observational data exist on the potential costs of such lightning speeds to local residents. This study aims to bridge this gap in data by presenting this author's experiences during a neighborhood construction project in Beijing.
Methods: This observational study took place during the repaving of BaiZiWanErNanLu. This street had previously been expanded from two lanes to four and re-paved in December 2010. Data was collected during the author's five-minute walk to the bus stop on May 18, 2011.
Results: Approximately 40-50 workers wearing bright orange jumpsuits were manning various machines, including ones to spray tar on the road, others that deposited steaming-hot asphalt on the tar, and steamrollers of various sides. The construction site was open--no signs or barriers prevented human traffic around or through the site, though a van on each side parked perpendicular to the road prevented road traffic (which caused a momentous traffic jam). By 8 AM, the entire road had been tarred, with 1/3 already laid down with asphalt and 1/3 steamrolled to perfection. During the author's walk, a young woman's shoe became stuck in the tar, requiring multiple construction workers to pull it free, and a man rode his bicycle out of his apartment complex into the newly paved (but not hard) road, resulting in a faceplant and coating of his work clothes with steaming asphalt. No one came to his aid, though construction workers did yell at him for messing up the smoothed road. A poofy Pomeranian ran across the asphalt, leaving little paw prints that needed to be re-steamrolled out. Despite the author's efforts to limit breathing and sidestep machinery, he still inhaled potentially carcinogenic chemical fumes as well as was brushed by an enormous steam roller.
Conclusion: The price of rapid construction is inconvenient at best and potentially fatal at worst to local residents. While a similar project may take ten times longer in the United States due to a combination of fear of punitive legal measures and a value of human existence, local residents are not at risk. Of note, long-term consequences of this exposure have not yet been determined as the author wants to wait to his return to New York City for his medical check up.