Bad Air pollutions days have mobilized some Chinese to push for better air pollution monitoring and controls

Item 3 describes the emergence of significant populist movements in China to push for better air pollution monitoring and controls. Item 1, 2 and 4 describe national and regional efforts to step up monitoring and air pollution controls in China.

1. Xinhuanet – China’s environmental planning body is seeking to lower the levels of small particulate pollutants in key industrial regions and cities by about 10 percent by 2015, sources close to the Ministry of Environmental Protection said in November, 2011

And a new set of standards under discussion to evaluate air quality is likely to include readings of PM2.5, the tiny airborne pollutants smaller than 2.5 microns that cause haze and can travel deep into the lungs and damage human respiratory systems.

“China is among the worst polluted places by particulate matter in the world, and the concentration of PM2.5 in most Chinese cities is higher than the safe levels called for by air quality guidelines published by the World Health Organization,” said Hao Jiming, a professor from the department of environmental science and engineering at Tsinghua University.

The country now only reports air quality based on readings of PM10, particulate matter smaller than 10 microns, which is why monitoring results do not match people’s sense of pollution.

“Compared to the WHO guidelines, China’s air quality standards are rather lax, and evaluation factors are still limited,” he told a Sino-US conference on regional air quality, held in Beijing on Thursday.

Under discussion are a new set of air evaluation standards, which are likely to include readings of PM2.5, and opinions will start to be solicited soon, said Hao.

The concentration of PM2.5 is related to the levels of pollution from burning coal, vehicle emissions and chemical plants, such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, volatile organic compounds and ammonia, according to Hao.

Meanwhile, a comprehensive plan for regional air pollution control drafted by the Chinese Academy for Environmental Planning has set a goal of “significantly lowering emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and particulate matter” and “notably improving air quality” in 12 key zones by 2015, according to Yang Jintian, deputy chief engineer at the academy.

The 12 key zones – including the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei area, Yangtze River Delta and Pearl River Delta – are large industrial regions and city clusters, covering 12 percent of China’s territory and 42 percent of its population. Together they account for 67 percent of the country’s GDP, and about half of pollution emissions.

Power plants, iron and steel factories and cement plants in these areas will have to follow more stringent emission standards, and the areas will also have to upgrade fuel quality for vehicles to reduce pollution emissions.

2. China assigned mandatory emission reduction tasks to local governments and state-owned enterprises.

The agreements specify mandatory emission reduction targets and pollution control targets for these local governments and enterprises, respectively, within the 12th Five-Year Plan period (2011-2015), and lists major emission reduction projects that signatories have to fulfill within a designated time frame.

According to the listed projects for 2011-2015, China will build at least 1,184 new sewage treatment plants with a daily capacity of treating 45.7 million tonnes of sewage, and equip thermal power plants with a total generating capacity of 400 million KW with de-sulfurizing facilities.

The central government will conduct annual performance evaluations of provincial governments in emission reduction and pollution control, and hold underachievers accountable

3. Armed with a device that looks like an old transistor radio, some Beijing residents are recording pollution levels and posting them online. It’s an act that borders on subversion.

The government keeps secret all data on the fine particles that shroud China’s capital in a health-threatening smog most days. But as they grow more prosperous, Chinese are demanding the right to know what the government does not tell them: just how polluted their city is.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection has announced plans to factor PM2.5 into new air quality standards, beyond the coarser PM10 already measured, but not until 2016.

Feng Yongfeng is a journalist and founder of Green Beagle, whose mission is to raise awareness of environmental problems and help improve China’s environment.

The battle over Beijing’s air seemed to take off this fall amid a run of smog-choked days. Pan Shiyi, a rich celebrity property developer who symbolizes middle-class aspirations, took to China’s version of Twitter to repost readings, including PM2.5, from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing that measures air quality from a monitor on its roof and publishes them online every hour.

The U.S. Embassy air quality readings are often bleaker than the official measure. From noon Sunday to noon Monday — during which hundreds of flights were canceled because of poor visibility at Beijing’s airport — embassy readings went from “hazardous” to “beyond index” as pollution exceeded the scale used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Beijing’s Environmental Protection Bureau said pollution was light.

Green Beagle is encouraging citizens to club together with neighbors and others in their community to buy their own 30,000 yuan ($5,000) PM2.5 monitoring device.

4. PM2.5 information will be monitored and published next year in 17 cities of Shandong Province, including Jinan, Qingdao, Zibo, according to its environmental protection department.

New equipment is required to sync with existing technology to monitor PM2.5, air particulate with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less. PM2.5 particles can penetrate the lungs or even enter the blood stream.

Before the automatic monitoring standards are released nationally, Shandong will follow those of the international community, according to, a Jinan-based news website.

The province will publish air quality readings every month. “Blue sky, white clouds and shining stars” will be some of the index designations used.

It hopes by 2015 pollution readings will be 20 percent lower than those in 2010.

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