COMBATING AIR POLLUTION IN CHINA

COMBATING AIR POLLUTION IN CHINA

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Fleet of electric buses
at 2008 Beijing Olympic
Jonathan Watts wrote in The Guardian: “A longer term solution to the smog shrouding many Chinese cities will be tighter factory and vehicle controls. In February 2011, the government said it would widen pollution reduction targets by adding nitrogen oxide---roughly a third of which comes from vehicle exhausts---and ammonia, a source of water contamination from chemical and textile plants. [Source: Jonathan Watts, The Guardian, February 4, 2011]

Cities including Shanghai and Beijing have begun restricting car ownership. The authorities have also taken positive steps on the release of environmental data. For the past two years, the only real-time, publicly available air pollution monitor in Beijing was provided by tweets from the US embassy. From last month, up-to-the-minute air and water data from more than 100 cities in China has been available on the website of the environment ministry.

Recent policies encourage desulfurization and other filtering technology in power plants. From 2005 to 2009, China cut its sulfur dioxide emissions by between 22 million and 25.5 million tons. But perhaps the best weapon against air pollution is mother nature. Sharp northern winds have helped Beijing to 2011 with a record stretch of "blue sky" days.

Bill McKibben wrote in National Geographic, Slowly those skies are clearing a little, at least in places like Beijing and Shanghai, as heavy industry is modernized or moved out of town. And the government has shut down many of the smallest and filthiest coal-fired power plants. Indeed, the country now leads the world in building what engineers call supercritical power stations, which produce far less smog than many of the hulking units still online in the U.S. Presumably China will get steadily cleaner as it gets richer---that's been the story elsewhere.” [Source: Bill McKibben, National Geographic, June 2011]

“But---and it's a crucial but---you can clean the air without really cleaning the air. The most efficient coal-fired power plants may not pour as much particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides into the atmosphere, but they still produce enormous quantities of carbon dioxide.” [Ibid]

In Beijing and other cities electric lines have been brought to local neighborhood and people there have been encouraged to switch from coal-briquette-heated stoves to electric heaters. To make the change easier to accept the government covers two thirds of the cost of the heaters. One Beijing resident told the Times of London he favored the change, saying, “They say it is may be a little more expensive overall than coal, but it is a price I don’t mind paying to get our blue skies back.”

China has phased out leaded gasoline, shut down the dirtiest factories, toughened up anti-pollution laws, established laws for cars to install catalytic convertors. Many upper and middle calls families in Beijing and other cities have air purifiers. Some cities have set up emission trading programs in which plants that use pollution control devises sell emission “credits” to places that have to spend more to reduce pollution.

Activists, lawyers and journalists have to some degree been given a green light by the government to raise public awareness about pollution and go after polluters. In September 2007, 100 Chinese cities , including Beijing, staged a “car free day.” The effort was largely ignored as middle class Chinese went about their chores using family cars.

Another solution is raising energy prices. Electricity prices in China are half of those in developed countries. A U.N. energy expert told the New York Times, "Liberalizing energy prices would be the single most effective policy to promote energy efficiency.”

Websites and Resources


air pollution
Good Websites and Sources: Photo Essay on Air Pollution erenlai.com ; World Resources Report wri.org ; Blog on Pollution in Beijing pollution-china.com ; Book: The River Runs Black by Elizabeth C. Economy (Cornell, 2004) is one of the best recently-written books on China’s environmental problems. In his book China on the Edge: the Crisis of Ecology and Development in China, the Chinese intellectual He Bochun argues that in many ways China's environmental problems have already reached catastrophic levels.

On the Environment: China Environmental News Blog china-environmental-news.blogspot.com ; China.Org (Chinese Government Environmental News china.org.cn/english/environment ; New York Times Multimedia Series on Pollution in China nytimes.com ; China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) english.mep.gov.cn ; EIN News Service’s China Environment News einnews.com/china/newsfeed-china-environment Wikipedia article on Environment of China ; Wikipedia ; China Environmental Protection Foundation (a Chinese Government Organization) cepf.org.cn/cepf_english ;Global Environmental Institute (a Chinese non-profit NGO) geichina.org ; Beijing Energy Network (a Chinese grassroots environmental group) greenleapforward.com ; Greenpeace China greenpeace.org/china/en ; China Digital Times Collection of Articles chinadigitaltimes.net ; Brief History of Chinese Environment planetark.com ; Article on Wetlands Degradation library.utoronto.ca ; Useful But Dated Source List on te Environment and China newton.uor.edu ; China Environmental Forum at the Wilson Center wilsoncenter.org ; International Fund for China’s Environment ifce.org ; China Watch worldwatch.org ; China Environmental law Blog chinaenvironmentallaw.com ; World Resources Institute wri.org ; China Environmental Industry Network cein.net


air pollution
Links in this Website: ENVIRONMENT IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEMS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; GLOBAL WARMING IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; AIR POLLUTION IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; WATER POLLUTION IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; WATER SHORTAGES IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; DEFORESTATION AND DESERTIFICATION IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; GARBAGE AND RECYCLING IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ;ENVIRONMENT, GOVERNMENT POLICY AND FIGHTING POLLUTION IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; Factsanddetails.com/China ; ENVIRONMENTAL GROUPS AND PROTESTS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; THE 2008 OLYMPICS IN BEIJING, POLLUTION WEATHER Factsanddetails.com/China ; LAND AND GEOGRAPHY OF CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; WEATHER IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; DAMS AND HYDRO POWER IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; THREE GORGES AND THREE GORGES DAM Factsanddetails.com/China ; COAL IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; NUCLEAR POWER AND ALTERNATIVE ENERGIES Factsanddetails.com/China ; WATER IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China

Efforts by the Chinese Government to Combat Air Pollution

Don Lee wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “China's political leaders have pledged to take tougher action. Saying that the country will not sacrifice the environment for short-term economic gains, President Xi Jinping has vowed to punish officials who approve projects that cause serious pollution. [Source: Don Lee, Los Angeles Times, June 20, 2013 =+=]

Julie Makinen wrote in the Los Angeles Times, During the airpoclapyse wave of air pollution in 2013, “China’s government experimented with various emergency measures, curtailing the use of official cars and ordering factories and construction sites to close. In June, China’s State Council, or Cabinet, announced a package of 10 anti-pollution measures, including forcing heavy-polluting industries such as steel and petrochemicals to release environmental data to the public, gradually comply with international emission limits and replace outdated technologies. But heavy polluters are being asked only to reduce their emissions for each unit of economic output by 30 percent by the end of 2017; critics say if economic growth continues to exceed 7 percent annually, total decreases in pollution will be small.[Source: Julie Makinen, Los Angeles Times, July 8, 2013 <^>]

China said at the end of 2012 that it would begin releasing hourly pollution data for its biggest cities. Beijing has already committed to a timetable to improve air quality in the city, and has relocated most of its heavy industry, but surrounding regions have not made the same commitments, Zhou Rong, climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace, told Reuters. "For Beijing, cleaning up will take a whole generation but other regions don't even have any targets to cut coal burning. I bet the pollution here is mainly from those surrounding regions." [Source: Jason Lee, Reuters, January 13, 2013]

Edward Wong wrote in the New York Times, “For years China has had an array of strict environmental standards on paper, and its leaders talk constantly about the need to improve the environment. But enforcement has been lax, and the environment has continued to deteriorate at an alarming rate. The government has introduced new fuel standards only to have them blocked or ignored by state-owned oil and power companies to save on costs.[Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, July September 2013]

“Chinese leaders have produced an impressive flurry of policies on air pollution this year, but regulators still suffer from insufficient authority; rapid economic growth means that a steady stream of pollution sources come on line every day; and vested business interests are sure to scream bloody murder every step of the way,” Alex L. Wang, a scholar of Chinese environmental policy and a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, told the New York Times. “It’s one thing to have a strategy, and another to execute it well,” he added. [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, October 24, 2013]

The Beijing Coking-Chemical Plant was one of the Beijing worst polluters until it was relocated in 2006. At it peak it employed 10,000 workers and powered most of the city’s stoves and heating system. Chinese leaders were proud of the fact that smoke for the factory’s six chimneys never stopped in its 47-year history. After it was moved to Tangshan people that used to live near it in Beijing said it was the first time they could hang laundry outside without worrying about their clothes getting covered with black coal dust.

Disclosure of Data on Air Pollution in China

Edward Wong wrote in in the New York Times: A study released said the growth rate of disclosure of pollution information in 113 Chinese cities had slowed. The groups doing the study, the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, based in Beijing, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, based in Washington, said that “faced with the current situation of severe air, water and soil pollution, we must make changes to pollution source information disclosure so that information is no longer patchy, out of date and difficult to obtain.” [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, July 8, 2013 <>]

Chinese officials have made some progress in disclosing crucial air pollution statistics. Official news reports have said 74 cities are now required to release data on levels of particulate matter 2.5 micrometers in diameter or smaller, which penetrate the body’s tissues most deeply. For years, Chinese officials had been collecting the data but refusing to release it, until they came under pressure from Chinese who saw that the United States Embassy in Beijing was measuring the levels hourly and posting the data in a Twitter feed,@BeijingAir.

Since 2007, the Ministry of Environmental Protection has published an annual list of high-polluting industrial plants around China. The latest identifies 4,189 factories that, together, release 65 percent of China’s total industrial air pollutants. “We need to know where they are, what kinds of pollutants they discharge, the volume and whether they are in compliance with discharge standards,” Mr. Ma said, adding that local governments gather that data but do not release it. Advocates hope that identifying the polluters publicly will help to shame them into improving, Mr. Ma said, with pressure coming from “whoever invests in the polluting factories, the banks giving them loans, the brands that source from these polluters.”

New Measures to Curb Air Pollution in China

In June 2013, Associated Press reported: China's Cabinet has announced measures to curb the country's notorious air pollution. The broad measures approved by the State Council include putting strict controls in place for industries that produce large amounts of waste and pollution, but it will likely be up to local governments to work out the details. In a meeting chaired by Premier Li Keqiang, the State Council approved 10 "tough measures to accomplish tough tasks," the council said. These include a target to reduce pollution emissions by at least 30 percent in heavy-polluting industries by the end of 2017. [Source: Associated Press, June 15, 2013 +*+]

“In its announcement of the new measures, the State Council said local governments should shoulder the general responsibilities for local air quality. During periods of heavy pollution, the local governments should enact emergency response measures, such as restricting traffic or enacting emissions limits for polluting industries, it said. Strict controls will be put in place for industries that produce large amounts of waste and pollution and hope to expand, while efforts to eliminate outdated technology in the steel and cement industries, among others, will be strengthened, it said. Construction projects that fail to pass environmental evaluations should not receive permission to go ahead. +*+

Paul Armstrong and Feng Ke of CNN reported: In September 2013, “the central government in China announced plans to start listing its top ten most air-polluted cities every month in the hope that national humiliation will push positive environmental action. "We must put air quality control as an ecological red line for economic management and social development," China's Vice Premier Zhang Gao Li said in a statement as he announced the new policy at the 18th Air Pollution Control Conference in Beijing. Chinese officials did not say when the first list would be announced, but the northern megacities of Beijing and Tianjin, as well as the surrounding provinces of Hebei, Shanxi, Inner Mongolia and Shandong have signed onto an official plan to speed up air pollution control measures.[Source: Paul Armstrong and Feng Ke, CNN, October 23, 2013]

New Chinese Air-Pollution Measures Could Take 18 Years to Improve Air Quality

China’s measures announced in June 2013 to combat pollution by slashing emissions from major polluting industries and holding local officials responsible could take 18 years to bring air quality within acceptable standards, analysts said. The measures announced by the State Council, including holding local officials responsible for air quality, and reducing emissions from key polluting industries by 30 percent within five years, amount to a “milestone in the country’s anti-pollution campaign”, Deutsche Bank said in a report. But the bank cautioned that efforts to improve air quality “could last for 18 years, before Chinese cities’ average PM2.5 falls to 30?. PM2.5 is a measure of tiny particulate matter which causes smog and breathing problems. [Source: Agence France-Presse, June 17, 2013]

Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, said the measures announced were “a response to public concerns”, but cautioned that “it will be a huge challenge to put the measures into action.”“The main reason (for pollution) is that the local governments protect polluting industries for the sake of GDP,” he said. The new measures, which include a pledge to give local leaders targets for improving air quality, could provide them with “new motivation” to reduce pollution, Ma said, adding: “It’s not clear how important the environmental goals are in the overall system”.

Ma praised a new requirement that heavy polluters such as power plants must release detailed environmental information to the general public. “This will change the dynamic,” Ma said. “It’s a big step forward for corporate disclosure, which has always lagged behind in China.”“I think that these measures are great, but the challenge is giving the government the motivation to enforce them,” he said. “The pressure needs to come from the public, because the power of the public is large, and they can push forward air pollution control in China.”

The China Daily, one of the country’s state-run newspapers which have grown increasingly outspoken on the issue of air pollution, said Monday in an editorial that if local governments obeyed the new measures, “the day would not be too far away when we would be able to enjoy clean air”.

More New Measures to Curb Air Pollution in China

In September 2013, Edward Wong wrote in the New York Times, “The Chinese government announced an ambitious plan to curb air pollution across the nation, including setting some limits on burning coal and taking high-polluting vehicles off the roads to ensure a drop in the concentration of particulate matter in cities. The plan, released by the State Council, China’s cabinet, filled in a broad outline that the government had issued this year. It represents the most concrete response yet by the Communist Party and the government to growing criticism over allowing the country’s air, soil and water to degrade to abysmal levels because of corruption and unchecked economic growth. [Source: Edward Wong. New York Times, September 12, 2013 ***]

“Environmental advocates, including some at Greenpeace East Asia, said the plan did not go far enough, while others praised it for at least acknowledging some of the basic causes of the country’s chronic air pollution. But there was wide agreement that the ultimate test would come in how it is carried out and enforced. “The plan successfully identifies the root cause of air pollution in China: China’s industrial structure,” said Ma Jun, a prominent environmental advocate. “Industrialization determines the structure of energy consumption. If China does not upgrade its coal-dependent industries, coal consumption can never be curbed.” he said. “The key to preventing air pollution is to curb coal burning — China burns half of all the coal consumed in the world.” ***

“Under the new plan, concentrations of fine particulate matter must be reduced by 25 percent in the Beijing-Tianjian-Hebei area in the north, 20 percent in the Yangtze River Delta in the east and 15 percent in the Pearl River Delta in the south, compared with 2012 levels. All other cities must reduce the levels of larger particulate matter, known as PM 10, by 10 percent. It is unclear why the plan calls for a looser standard for other cities, since the fine particulate matter, known as PM 2.5, is considered deadlier than PM 10 because it can penetrate deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream.The plan said Beijing must also bring its average concentration of PM 2.5 down to 60 micrograms per cubic meter or less. That would be two and a half times the recommended exposure limit set by the World Health Organization. ***

“Coal consumption has grown rapidly in China, and the plan places only modest limits on consumption, with coal to account for no more than 65 percent of energy use in 2017, compared with around 67 percent last year. Some of the plan’s critics said they were disappointed that there were no specific limits on coal consumption by region. The plan allows local governments to set those limits on their own. “Instead of setting a goal to reduce coal burning for each province, the action plan gives each province the power to set goals for themselves, which leads to the goals being very conservative,” said Huang Wei, who works on climate and energy advocacy at Greenpeace East Asia. ***

“The plan addressed vehicle emissions by removing all high-polluting “yellow label” vehicles that were registered before the end of 2005 from the roads by the end of 2015. In the three regions with heavy industry, all such vehicles are to be taken off the roads by 2015, and the same for all of China by 2017. In those three regions, gasoline and diesel of a high standard, China V, will be provided in certain cities. But the plan did not set targets for new vehicle emissions standards, which some environmental advocates say is a major omission. “We had been waiting for months for the new action plan,” Ms. Huang said. “We thought it might be a pivot point in history. Now it’s here, and we think it has very much fallen short of our expectations.” ***

Fighting Air Pollution in Beijing

Ben Blanchard of Reuters wrote: “Chinese authorities made an all-out effort to improve air quality during the 2008 Summer Olympics, curtailing vehicle movements and relocating outdated, polluting factories. The relief was temporary, as curbs on factories were relaxed and car sales continued to rocket. The Beijing authorities say they are well aware of the air pollution problem. "We are trying to improve air quality. It is not only to attract investment from abroad; we are also doing it for the health of all Beijingers," an official at Beijing's environmental protection bureau told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity. [Source: Ben Blanchard, Reuters, July 29, 2012]

David Pierson wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “ China's smog crisis is not unlike those experienced in London and Los Angeles in the 1950s. Public outcry ultimately led to cleaner air and tougher environmental regulations. Environmental activists hope the same happens in China. The Beijing government says it's has considered a host of emergency measures to clear the air, including limiting vehicle usage, spraying building sites to reduce dust and restricting outdoor barbecue grills. China's premier, Li Keqiang, said, "This is a problem accumulated over a long period of time, and solving the problem will also require a long time. But we need to take action." [Source: David Pierson, Los Angeles Times, January 26, 2013 >><<]

To tackle air pollution Beijing has introduced environmental standards for buildings, planted trees, set aside more green areas and built subways and improved mass transportation. Vehicle emissions standards have been raised to European levels, millions of homes have converted from coal to gas and dozens of high-polluting factories have been relocated or temporarily shut.

Dirty old steel factories are being upgraded or relocated. Particularly dirty ones have been ordered to shut down even though they employ thousands of people. To reduce smog, the low chimneys of small thermal power generators are being replaced by the towering smokestacks of more efficient “supercritical” plants. Although China is building one a new coal-fired plant each week, most of them are more efficient than similar facilities in the United States and Britain. They are also better equipped to remove sulphur dioxide and other noxious gases. But almost none of them remove carbon dioxide. The result is that local air pollution is finally easing in many places but emissions of greenhouse gases into the planet's atmosphere are increasing. [Source: Jonathan Watts, The Guardian, November 15, 2009]

To reduce air pollution in Beijing a license plate system similar to the one used in the 2008 Olympics was put in place. According to the system cars with license plate numbers ending in 0 or 5 would have to stay off the road on Monday. Those with license plate numbers ending in 1 or 6 would have to stay off the road on Tuesday, those with 2 and 7 would stay off on Wednesday and so on through the five weekdays. The measures were credited with reducing pollution by 10 percent.

Car Ban, See Olympics Below, See Automobiles, Transportation, Government and Public Services.

Beijing’s Emergency Measures to Fight Air Pollution

In October 2013, officials in Beijing announced a series of emergency measures aimed at tackling the city’s air pollution problem, including mandatory factory closures and bans on cars entering the city on days when pollution levels are particularly high. Paul Armstrong and Feng Ke of CNN reported: “The city's Heavy Air Pollution Contingency Plan stipulates that when there is "serious pollution for three consecutive days," a warning system comprising of blue, yellow, orange and red -- the most serious -- alerts will be activated. Kindergartens, primary and middle schools will then have to stop classes, while 80 percent of government-owned cars must be taken off the roads. Private cars will only be allowed to enter the city on alternate days according to ballot system of the numbers on their registration plates. [Source: Paul Armstrong and Feng Ke, CNN, October 23, 2013]

All freight vehicles and those transporting material for construction sites will be barred from the roads when the red alert is issued, while more watering carts and sprinkler trucks will take to the roads, the state-run China Daily reported. Factories in the city emitting pollutants will be required to cut their emissions or shut down completely when the orange warning signal is hoisted, while construction sites must halt excavation and demolition operations. Other measures include a ban on barbeques and fireworks on heavily polluted days.

According to the plan, these emergency measures will come into play when the air quality index for fine particulate matter, PM2.5 -- airborne particles considered most harmful to health -- exceeds 300 micrograms per cubic meter for three days running. The "safe" limit is 25 micrograms, the World Health Organization says.

The Telegraph reported: “Private vehicles will be allowed to operate only on alternating days, depending on the last number of their licence plates. Factory emissions will be cut 30 percent by suspending or limiting production, and construction sites must halt excavation and demolition work. Classes will be suspended, a measure likely to cause inconvenience in a city where most parents both work.Fang Li, vice director of the city's Environmental Protection Bureau, acknowledged that the measures would not prevent smog wafting into Beijng from neighbouring provinces such as Heibei. As much as 60 per cent of the capital's air pollution is said to come from outside sources. "We have no control over Hebei, but this is a national priority and we hope we can be a positive role model," the official told reporters. [Source: The Telegraph, Agencies, October 22, 2013]

Response to Beijing’s Emergency Measures to Fight Air Pollution

Paul Armstrong and Feng Ke of CNN reported: “While the announcement has been broadly welcomed as a step in the right direction, doubt remains about its long-term effectiveness. "The new emergency measures show the government's determination to tackle the air pollution in Beijing, especially those regulations that limit car use and close schools and kindergartens on heavily polluted days. It shows that the authority has really paid attention to those vulnerable groups," Huang Wei, a spokesman for Greenpeace East Asia, told CNN. "But what is problematic is that those emergency measures are only targeted to those polluted days. It is rather a remedial measure than a preventative measure, and just to repair won't help the issue in the long run. [Source: Paul Armstrong and Feng Ke, CNN, October 23, 2013]

"The air pollution in Beijing is mostly transmitted from other cities, and what Beijing can do is very limited. What the authority should do is to build a linkage mechanism, combining preventative measures with emergency control. For instance, factories in surrounding areas like Inner Mongolia, and Shandong Province could close their factories in advance before the potential transmission of serious pollutants. It should be collaborative work between cities, and only Beijing is not enough."

This view was backed by many ordinary Chinese on Weibo, China's popular micro-blogging service. "They should have some long-term thinking instead of always waiting till the crisis happens," posted one user with the handle Shijinmilu. Another, called Qinghualiuqingyu, asked: "How about those people who can't afford an expensive house in the city and have to take cars to work every day?" "Cars are not the main polluters, surrounding factories are. Sometimes the pollution level still goes up crazily even it's around 2 or 3 a.m. The policy itself is good, but it's more important how they implement it," said TangyuanAllesGute.

Edward Wong wrote in the New York Times, “Skeptics point out that wealthier households can buy extra vehicles to get around that rule. And Beijing News said in its editorial that on “red alert” days, everyone should stay home, not just children. “Faced with the increasingly serious pollution levels in Beijing,” it said, “coupled with the carelessness of residents in protecting themselves against pollution, the emergency plan is still inadequate.” [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, October 24, 2013]

Chinese Government Response to Air Pollution Changing?

Edward Wong wrote in the New York Times, The emergency measures taken in Harbin after severe smog there in October 2013 “showed that the government was trying to address the problem rather than merely cover it up, as it might have done in past years, some environmental activists said. Action plans in Harbin, Beijing and other cities, along with broad national policies meant to curb air pollution announced last month, signal that some officials are serious about tackling the chronic problem. On Thursday, the Ministry of Environmental Protection said it was sending inspection teams to cities across China for the winter to ensure that environmental regulations were enforced. [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, October 24, 2013]

Awareness of various kinds of pollution — air, water and soil — has risen quickly, especially among middle-class urbanites. Chinese news media, including official state outlets, are reporting more aggressively on the causes and effects of pollution. An editorial in the Beijing News took note that the World Health Organization had classified air pollution as a leading cause of cancer, and said that on days when the air is hazardous, “containing the pollution and protecting the health of residents is the highest priority.”But the advocates say enforcement is often a weak point, even when leaders understand that cleaning up the environment has become critical to maintaining social and political stability.

One goal of the national plan announced in September 2013 was to reduce the concentration of PM 2.5 in three heavily populated industrial regions by 15 percent to 25 percent, compared with 2012 levels. Prime Minister Li Keqiang said last month that the cities of Beijing and Tianjin and the province of Hebei, all in northern China, would cut down their use of coal, the main source of air pollution, by 80 million tons a year in the near future.

Huang Wei, who works on climate and energy issues at Greenpeace East Asia, said officials needed to focus on bigger solutions, not stopgap measures. “The situation will not change as long as China has an over 70 percent energy dependency on coal,” she said. “The long-term solution is to get rid of heavy energy-consuming industries.”

China Barbecue Ban Plans Ignites Anger

In February 2013, AFP reported: “China web-users were furious over plans to tackle pollution with a ban on barbecues, wryly asking if Beijing would stamp out fried food and normal bodily functions in its war on smog. While many residents have grown tired of donning face-masks or having to stay indoors during prolonged bouts of heavy smog, China's food-loving public say forcing fire-grilled food off the streets is a step too far. "This is hilarious. What are they going to consider next? Banning fried food?" said one user on Weibo, China's version of Twitter. "What proportion of pollution comes from barbeques?" said another. "I wonder when the government will start banning breaking wind." [Source: AFP, February 21, 2013 >><<]

“The controversial measure is being explored as Beijing aims to confront the heavy pollution which has choked large swathes of the country in recent weeks. State media said that the country's environmental watchdog had issued draft guidelines advising major cities to adopt legislation banning "barbecue-related activities". Barbequed food is a favourite dish in China, particularly lamb skewers, a speciality of the north-western region of Xinjiang.” >><<

Cleaning Up Coal-Related Pollution in China

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even license plates
The primary solution to China’s air problem is coming up with clean energy sources and reducing reliance on coal. According to a U.N. report, "By they year 2020 large-scale adoption of low-carbon energy sources such as a hydro, nuclear, gas, biomass, solar and wind technologies could displace substantial quantity of coal, particularly for electric generation.” The production of coal-fired plants has slowed to some degree. They are no longer being produced at the rate of one a week and now add 80 gigawatts of power a year, down from 100 gigawatts a few years earlier.

Measures taken by China to reduce pollution caused by the burning of coal include banning the use of coal for heating and cooking in cities such as Beijing and Shanghai; moving large coal-fired plants out of urban areas and replacing them with plants that burn natural gas; tightening the energy efficiency of new buildings. Some cities, including Beijing, have banned coal burning stoves and require people to cook with cleaner-burning fuels.

Policies to decrease emissions from coal-fried plants include installing desulphering equipment, monitoring emission levels, providing incentives to scrub emissions and closing down small inefficient plants and repalcing them with more efficient, large, modern plants. Emissions could be reduced by as much as two thirds by following these measures, but are ignored because they are expensive. Often it is easier, cheaper and enrgy-efficient to build new plants from scratch than replace existing ones.

China could use 50 percent less coal simply by installing energy-efficient technology. A new plant in Zouxian, the second biggest coal-fired plant in China, produces 1 gigawatts of electricity, enough to power 1 million homes and burns 10 million tons of coal but produces less pollution than plants a tenth of its size thanks to new generators that are among the most efficient in the world. Made withe Japanese company Hitachi, the generators burn powdered fuel at such high temperatures (600̊C) water turns to steam without boiling, saving energy and carbon emissions. The technology is expensive. It can cost almost $1 billion to supply generators to a single plant.

Under the proposed "Global Green Deal" Japan and the United States would help China pay for this technology The Japanese have provided power plants in Shaaxi with scrubbers to reduce sulphur dioxide emissions. These and other measures have reportedly reduced sulfur dioxide emissions for 23 million tons in 1995 to 19 million tons in 2004.

In 1994, only one Chinese power plant had desulphurization equipment. Now many have it and Chinese firms can produce their own desulphurization equipment at 30 percent the cost of other countries. Many think that China can also make advances with “ultra-supercritical” generators and significnatly bring the costs of that technology down.

Another way that China could reduce its air pollution is to convert a portion of its coal reserves into natural gas which delivers much more energy for the amount of carbon dioxide given off and produces much less air pollution. China is looking into polygneration---a method in which coal is converted into cleaner gaseous fuel that can be used to generate electricity and be processed into a petroleum substitute---as way of using coal without producing greenhouse gases.

Relieving Smog By Blasting a Hole in Mountain

Officials in Lanzhou considered a plan to blast a "hole" in a nearby mountain to allow smog to escape from the valley that entraps it. One local environmentalist told Newsweek, "It's like a person is smoking in a house with all the doors closed. If we open a door, fresh air can blow in."

The "hole" would have been produced by widening a narrow pass to two kilometers by blasting away sandy loess ridges with high-pressure hoses. Nobody knows if the plan would have worked. As outrageous as this scheme seems there are few other alternatives. Replacing or improving the Soviet-designed factories would will cost billions of dollars.

A hole was never blasted but the top of a mountain was blown off. It ended up adding to the pollution problem not solving it. Even though elaborate sprinkler system was brought in to control dust, large amounts of polluting particles were hurled into the air by explosives and they contributed to particulate pollution.

20080317-pollution-towers julie chao.jpg
Pollution towers

Success and Limitations in Cleaning Up Air Pollution in China

Between 2000 and 2005, the number of moderate to heavily polluted cities fell from 115 to 68 but the number of once-clean cities to “lightly polluted” rose from 100 to 141 cities. Pollution reducing measures taken in Benxi proved to be successful enough for the city to reappear in satellite imagery

The air pollution in Shanghai has been reduced somewhat as a result of the collapse of the textile industry there, the moving of large factories outside the city and planting lots of trees. The mayor of Shanghai has suggested adding a surcharge on electric bills to pay for environmental improvements.

Even if China increased the efficiency of its coal burning power plants, it wouldn't make much of difference because so many small industries and household burn coal for heating, cooking and power. Many also feel that whatever advances are made reducing industrial pollution will be cancelled by pollution from a increasing number of vehicles on the road.

Beijing claims that it is cracking down harder with steep fines on repeat offenders but factory owners and coal officials say that it is much cheaper to pay the fines and continue polluting than build new plants and take pollution-fighting measures. Many factory managers and government officials whose performance is judged by economic quotas and targets are reluctant to tackle air pollution if it means falling short of their targets.

Ozone and CFCs in China

China produced 11,540 metric tons of CFCs in 1986 compared to 311,021 metric tons by the United States. In 2007 China produced 13,060 tons of CFCs compared to 1,088 by the United States.

In 1980, China had only 32,000 refrigerators. By 1990 that figure jumped to four million. Chlorofluorocarbons (CFC's) leaking from refrigerators and air-conditioners are a major source of ozone-depleting gases. China now has a huge refrigerator industry, producing chlorofluorocarbons.

In 1987 China was reluctant to sign the Montreal Protocol, an international agreement to save the earth's ozone layer, because it believed it couldn't afford the research costs to come up with new ozone-friendly coolants. When the United States announced it would share the costs, China signed the protocol.

The use of ozone-layer-depleting chemicals in India and China and to a less extent in Indonesia threatens to cancel out progress made in reducing the use of these chemicals in the developed world.

In western Tibet-Qinghai there is a mysterious "ozone valley" that thus far scientists have been unable to explain.

Air Pollution and the 2008 Olympics

One of the biggest problems that Olympic organizers had to deal with is Beijing’s air pollution, which increases in the summer when humidity and a lack of wind traps particles and pollutants in the air. International Olympic Committee President Rogge said that athletic performances might be “slightly reduced” because of the pollution and some events might have to be postponed or rescheduled if pollution levels were particularly high on a certain day. Coaches and athletes were quite upset by this statement because changing the time of an event at the last minute can cause trouble for an athlete orienting his training towards a particular day and time. Later Rogge said that air pollution situation in Beijing was “perfectly manageable."

In some surveys, Beijing is ranked as the second most polluted city in the world. It's air quality is 16 times worse than New York City, and the amount of suspended particles is ten times higher than Los Angeles. Air pollution is measured on a scale of 0 to 500 with 200 being bad and 300 being harmful to health. Each year there are numerous days above 300 and occasionally there is a reading over 500, which is like having the mercury in a thermometer break through the top of a tube.

According to one study breathing the air in Beijing is the equivalent to smoking three packs of unfiltered cigarettes a day. The air is so bad people sometimes go weeks without seeing the sun and sometimes even have trouble making out buildings a few blocks away. Newspapers run reports on the best times to go outside: usually before morning rush hour, in the middle of the day and before the evening rush hour and before the time when people cook their meals with coal stoves.

See Article 2008 OLYMPICS IN BEIJING, POLLUTION AND WEATHER under Sports, Olympics

Efforts to Combat Air Pollution at the 2008 Olympics

Chinese scientists were ordered to produce of quota of “blue sky days” in Beijing. Much of the $12.2 billion earmarked for cleaning up the city was focused on cleaning up the air. More than 200 of the foulest smokestack industries and power plants were closed or moved. An entire steelworks---Capital Iron and Steel--- was moved out of Beijing, 100 miles to the east. It had been in Beijing for 50 years and used to emit nasty “red smoke all night” and once produced a toxic gas cloud that caused several people to choke to death.

Power plants were modified to reduce emissions; 16,000 coal-burning factories were renovated; 1,000 small coal mines were closed. Factories in the greater Beijing area and coal mines in nearby Shanxi Province were supposed to close down for weeks or months before the Olympics. Gas stations closed, industrial spraying and painting was banned. All construction was stopped to reduce dust levels. Officials with the Beijing Olympics Organizing committee sais their efforts payed off before the Olympics, saying that number of blue sky days has increased from 100 in 1998 to 241 in 2006.

Beijing set up a state-of-the-art control room that measured pollution at 27 monitoring stations around the city. But it was been less than forthcoming with data from these stations and of details of its pollution-fighting plans and success at reaching its goals. The stonewalling and lack of information about specific pollutants and specific areas made people suspicious. Promises to close factories outside Beijing and nearby cities were broken, apparently because some factories refusing to follow government orders to close down. The whole idea of tallying “blue sky days” as a way of measuring pollution was regarded as a joke by many scientists.

In April 2008, the Chinese government announced that Beijing would close factories and force 19 heavy polluters to reduce emissions by 30 percent two months before and during the Olympics and said if the weather conditions were particularly bad even more extreme measures would be taken. Other measures were taken in Tianjin, Hebei, Inner Mongolia, Shanxi and Shandong.

Among the 19 polluters were several plants run by Shougang Steel---the Beijing’s worst polluter---Yanshan Petrochemical group, Jinganeneg Thermal Power and three other coal-burning plants and Number 27 locomotive Factory. The Eastern Chemical Plant of Beijing and several cement factories were shut down completely as were industrial coal-boilers and gas station that don’t meet emission standards that are among the toughest in the world.

Fifty factories, including two cement makers, in Tianjin, 115 kilometers east of Beijing, and 300 factories in Tangshan, 150 kilometers east of Beijing, were ordered to close from late July to mid September. Tianjin, which hosted some Olympic soccer games, halted the construction of 26 buildings during the Games. A contingency plan was in place to close even more factories and coal-fired coal plants and impose driving restrictions in Tianjin and other cities around Beijing if pollution worsened during the Olympics.

Vehicles, Air Pollution and the 2008 Olympics

Emission standards were tightened on vehicles in the wake of the 2008 Olympics. More than 50,000 smog-producing taxis were taken off the streets and replaced with more efficient models. More than 4,000 buses were put in operation that ran on natural gas and produced virtually no emissions.

In August 2007, Chinese authorities reduced the number of cars in Beijing by 1 million over a four day period using an odd-even licence plate system that was a test for a similar system to be used during the Olympics. Even though skies were still hazy and brown as usual and pollution levels were slightly higher than before the test, the authorities deemed the test a success, saying that pollution readings were in the 90s. Readings of 100 to 200 are regarded as slightly polluted. The Chinese media was told to play up the positive aspects of the test.

Cars with even numbered license plates were barred from driving two days. Cars with odd numbered license plates were barred from driving on two other days. Taxis, buses, police cars ambulances were exempted. Bus and subway service was increased. Traffic ran smoothly and there were few complains about lines for buses or subways.

Driving restrictions began about 2½ weeks before the Opening Ceremonies and continued for about a month after the Olympics ended. Half of Beijing’s vehicles were kept of the roads using the odd, even license plate system. Taxis, buses and emergency vehicles were exempted from the rules. Beginning in early July, about 300,000 vehicles that failed to meet strict emission standards were banned from downtown Beijing.

Air Pollution Still Bad Despite Efforts to Clean It Up

Chinese statistics indicate that urban air quality has improved over the past decade as cities have relocated factories, reduced coal burning and adopted stricter vehicle emission standards, Sharon Lafraniere wrote in the New York Times. The World Bank’s analysis of the government’s data found that average concentrations of particulates measuring 10 microns or less---a group that includes both fine and coarser particulates---fell 31 percent from 2003 to 2009 in 113 major cities.

Chinese monitoring stations around Beijing track large particulates of up to 10 micrometers. The number of those particles has dropped as a result of reforestation programs that lessen the dust storms that blew in from deserts. The Chinese have also been successful in reducing sulfur dioxide emissions by limiting coal heating and imposing stricter emissions standards. [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, October 29, 2011]

Still, only a few cities managed to meet China’s own toughest standard, which is twice as loose as the World Health Organization guideline. Mr. Wang, the researcher, contends that while Beijing’s PM 10 level fell nearly a third from 2006 to 2009---for the most part, in the years leading up to the Beijing Olympic of 2008---it has been edging up ever since.

Chinese Air Pollution Worsens Despite Efforts to Curb It

Just as air quality improved when economic growth slowed after the Lehman Brother collapsed it began to worsen when the economy recovered. According to a government study issued in July 2010, inhalable particulates have increased in Beijing, where officials have struggled to improve air quality by shutting down noxious factories and tightening auto emission standards. Despite such efforts, including an ambitious program aimed at reducing the use of coal for home heating, the average concentration of particulates in the capital air violated the World Health Organization standards more than 80 percent of the time during the last quarter of 2008. [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, July 28, 2010]

Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs in Beijing, said many of the government efforts to curtail pollution had been offset by the number of construction projects that spit dust into the air and the surge in private car ownership. In Beijing, driving restrictions that removed a fifth of private cars from roads each weekday have been offset by 250,000 new cars that hit the city streets in the first four months of 2010. Many of the most polluting industries were forced to relocate far from the capital before the 2008 Summer Olympics, but the wind often carries their emissions hundreds of miles back.” [Ibid]

Wikileaks Reveals Failure to Measure Pollutants

In August 2011, WikiLeaks revealed that China failed to measure the most dangerous types of air pollution because authorities were afraid of the political consequences, according to U.S. diplomatic cables. Jonathan Watts wrote in The Guardian, “Diplomats based in the industrial heartland of Guangdong looked in detail at monitoring systems and health impacts in 2006. Based on research by local scientists, the consulate noted in a cable dated 16 August that small-particulate matter known as PM2.5, was five to 10 times higher than suggested by World Health Organisation guidelines. [Source: Jonathan Watts, The Guardian August 26, 2011]

It said the findings were "alarming" because PM2.5 is not on the government index of air pollutants yet it is deemed to be of highest concern for public health because the particles are so fine they can enter into the lungs, contribute to acute respiratory symptoms, heart disease, childhood illnesses and premature deaths. The diplomats observed, however, that this form of pollution was not being systematically measured and made public because the findings were likely to be too sensitive for the authorities.

"Those lobbying for its inclusion in an index of pollutants conceded that including a pollutant whose current levels would measure so far above acceptable standards would be politically difficult," the cable said. Problems about transparency extended to academia, according to another cable dated 19 September 2006 which describes: "Academics and research scientists in Guangdong, who are increasingly concerned about the region's serious air pollution, but feel pressured to tone down their comments lest they face cuts in research funding ... Scientists acknowledge that lack of transparency for existing air pollution data is a major problem both for research and policy making."

Diplomats who attempted to research the possible links between pollution and birth defects were denied meeting requests on the grounds that the subject was "too sensitive". PM2.5 was not the only problem. Until now, Ozone---another dangerous pollutant---has also been omitted from the index, When the US Environmental Protection Agency Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation William Wehrum visited the Guangdong Environmental Information Center in 2006, a member of his delegation noted: "The raw data on the LCD screen showed extremely high levels of O3 (Ozone)".

Since the cable was written in November 2006, however, environmentalists have commended the progress that China has made in measuring, disclosing and reducing air pollution, but many of these concern remain today. The state media reported on Thursday that a new index would soon be introduced. Expectations are high that it will include ozone for the first time. Less certain is whether PM2.5 will finally be added.

PM 2.5 Fine Particulate Pollution and China

Sharon Lafraniere wrote in the New York Times: The most pernicious measure of urban air pollution---particulates 2.5 microns in diameter or less, or PM 2.5--- are among the most hazardous because they easily penetrate lungs and enter the bloodstream. Caused by dust or emissions from vehicles, coal combustion, factories and construction sites, the particles increases the risk of cardiovascular ailments, respiratory disease and lung cancer if people are chronically exposed to them. Car and truck exhaust is a major source of fine particulate pollution, a particular problem in Beijing, where the number of registered cars has skyrocketed from to 5 million in 2011 from 3.5 million in 2008.

The Chinese government has monitored exposure levels in 20 cities and 14 other sites, reportedly for as long as five years, but has kept the data secret. In the summer of 2010 it sought to silence the American Embassy in Beijing as well, arguing that American officials had insulted the Chinese government by posting readings from the PM 2.5 monitor could lead to “social consequences” in China and asked the embassy to restrict access to it. The embassy refused, and Chinese citizens now translate and disseminate the readings widely.

While China has made gains on some other airborne toxins, the PM 2.5 data is far from reassuring in a country that annually has hundreds of thousands of premature deaths related to air pollution. In an unreleased December report relying on government data, the World Bank said average annual PM 2.5 concentrations in northern Chinese cities exceeded American limits by five to six times as much, and two to four times as much in southern Chinese cities. Nine of 13 major cities failed more than half the time to meet even the initial annual mean target for developing countries set by the World Health Organization. Environmental advocates here expect China to adopt that target as its PM 2.5 standard.

Wang Yuesi, the chief air-pollution scientist at the Institute of Atmospheric Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, estimated this month that Beijing needed at least 20 years to reach that goal. The embassy’s monitor showed that fine particulate concentrations over the past two years averaged nearly three times that level , and 10 times the World Health Organization’s guideline, said Steven Q. Andrews, an environmental consultant based in Beijing.

In fact, Mr. Wang told Outlook Weekly , a magazine owned by China’s official news agency, Xinhua, that Beijing’s PM 2.5 concentrations have been increasing by 3 to 4 percent annually since 1998. He said the finer particulates absorbed more light, explaining why Beijing so often is enveloped in a haze thick enough to obscure even nearby buildings. Air pollution in the city and in nearby Tianjin is so severe that “something must be done to control it,” he wrote on his blog .

Zhong Nanshan, a respiratory expert at the Chinese Academy of Engineering, told China Daily month that without intervention, PM 2.5 particulates would replace smoking as China’s top cause of lung cancer. Beijing health experts told the newspaper that while smoking rates were flat, the city’s lung-cancer rate had risen 60 percent in the past decade, probably as a result of air pollution.

PM 2.5 particles are about 1/30th the width of a human hair, and so fine that they can lodge deeply in human lungs. "The smaller the particle, the more hazardous it is for public health," Shi Yuankai, an expert with the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences Cancer Hospital, told the China Daily. Protective measures like wearing face masks barely help because the particles are too small," he said.

U.S. Embassy Measurements of Air Pollution in Beijing

Keith B. Richburg wrote in the Washington Post: The U.S. Embassy gauges the air quality from a monitor on its roof, and posts the results hourly on a Twitter account, BeijingAir. Postings over the past several days repeatedly declared the air “Hazardous” to those exposed to it for 24 hours, with several measurements so high as to be deemed “Beyond Index.” Respites are when pollution readings are deemed only “Unhealthy to Sensitive Groups.” [Source: Keith B. Richburg, Washington Post, January 19 2012]

The Beijing municipal government, with more than two dozen monitoring stations around the city, has long measured PM levels of 10 micrometers in diameter, much larger than what the embassy measures. This has led to huge discrepancies, with Beijing authorities routinely reporting “clear blue skies” and only “slight” pollution on days when the American mission is declaring the air hazardous by international standards and warning children and the elderly to stay indoors.

One day that was listed as “beyond index” by the U.S. Embassy was merely “slightly polluted” on the Beijing government scale. The embassy reading was so high compared with the standards set by the U.S. "You couldn't get such a high level in the United States unless you were downwind from a forest fire," Dane Westerdahl, an air quality expert from Cornell University. Told the Los Angeles Times. The gap between the embassy and Beijing government readings was so great that, according to a State Department cable released by WikiLeaks, a Chinese official in 2009 tried to pressure the U.S. Embassy to stop making its readings public, saying the confusion could lead to “confusion” and “social consequences.” [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, October 29, 2011]

Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times: Perched atop the U.S. Embassy in Beijing is a device about the size of a microwave oven that spits out hourly measurements of PM 2.5 particles and instantly posts the results to Twitter and a dedicated iPhone application, where it is frequently picked up by Chinese bloggers. The embassy installed its monitor in 2008 before the Olympics to advise its personnel about air quality, but then decided it should make readings public under diplomatic rules that require that information regarding health and security risks be made available. The measurements drew widespread attention in November 2011, the first time a reading for fine particulate matter went above 500 micrograms per cubic meter, about seven times the U.S. standard for "acceptable" air quality.

The embassy ended up reporting that off-the-charts reading as "crazy bad." (Embassy officials say a computer programmer with a sense of humor embedded the language in the program linking the monitor to Twitter without realizing it would ever get used. The embassy quickly deleted the tweet and replaced it with "beyond index," but the fanciful description stuck in the imagination.

After that more Beijingers---using their handheld devices and other means to access Twitter, which is officially blocked here---began closely following the U.S. figures. BeijingAir has been widely considered a truer reflection of what was in the air than the rosier government estimates. In December, even the party-run Global Times questioned the official numbers, and why the embassy’s appeared to be more accurate. “Most people just have huge distrust of the government,” one Beijing resident told the Washington Post.

Chinese Air Pollution Activists Takes Matters Into Their Own Hands

Sharon Lafraniere wrote in the New York Times: Weary of waiting for the authorities to alert residents to the city’s most pernicious air pollutant, citizen activists in May 2011 took matters here into their own hands: they bought their own $4,000 air-quality monitor and posted its daily readings on the Internet. That began a chain reaction. Volunteers in Shanghai and Guangzhou purchased monitors in December, followed by citizens in Wenzhou, who are selling oranges to finance their device. Wenzhou donated $50 to volunteers in Wuhan, 140 miles inland. Officials have claimed for years that the air quality in fast-growing China is constantly improving. Beijing, for example, was said to have experienced a record 274 “blue sky” days in 2011, a statistic belied by the heavy smog smothering the city for much of the year. [Source: Sharon Lafraniere, New York Times, January 27, 2012]

But faced with an Internet-led brush fire of criticism, the edifice of environmental propaganda is collapsing. The government recently reversed course and began to track the most pernicious measure of urban air pollution---particulates 2.5 microns in diameter or less, or PM 2.5. It decreed that about 30 major cities must begin monitoring the particulates this year, followed by about 80 more next year.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection also promised to set health standards for such fine particulates “as soon as possible.” Last week, after years of concealing its data on such pollutants, Beijing began publishing hourly readings from one monitoring station. Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, a Beijing nonprofit group, credits the Chinese public for the breakthroughs. “At the beginning of last year, we had almost lost hope that the PM 2.5 would be integrated into the standards,” Mr. Ma said. “But at the end of the day, the people spoke so loudly that they made their voice heard.”

Feng Yongfeng, a Beijing father of a 3-year-old who founded a nonprofit environmental group called Green Beagle in 2009, argues that the Chinese should protect themselves by investigating their surroundings. “If the data is real, officials keep it to themselves,” said Mr. Feng, whose organization began this July to lend two PM 2.5 monitors to anyone who completes an online application. “You should not wait for the ministry to tell you the truth. You can find it out for yourself.” Only 30 people accepted the offer in the first five months. But Wang Quixia, the project manager, said interest had skyrocketed since publicity made PM 2.5 a household phrase in Beijing.

In November 2011, Pan Shiyi, a Beijing real estate tycoon, asked his seven million microblog followers whether China should employ a stricter air-quality standard. Shi Yigong, a molecular biologist who left Princeton University in 2008 to lead Tsinghua University’s life sciences department, complained in a December blog post that air pollution was the single “most upsetting and painful thing” about life in China.

But some Chinese citizens remain stoic or unaware. One afternoon last week when smog cloaked Beijing and the American Embassy monitor edged toward the top of the chart, parents flocked to the Capital Institute of Pediatrics, a children’s hospital in downtown Beijing, towing children with respiratory ailments. One mother of a 6-year-old awaiting treatment for her child’s chronic cough said: “I think it’s good for the child’s immune system to be exposed to tough weather like today’s. It will make them tougher.”

Beijing Makes Rare Concession on Pollution Measure

In January, The Guardian reported, Beijing's environmental agency included PM2.5 particles in its calculations after months of postings from netizens mocking the discrepancy between officially clear days and the dense smog at their windows. Ma said social media had played an essential role in changing government policy last year. State media also acknowledged the role of bloggers: "A stirring campaign on the country's social network websites since last autumn seemed to have gained a satisfying response from the country's policymakers," Xinhua news agency said.

Keith B. Richburg wrote in the Washington Post, In a rare bow to public pressure, the Beijing local government has begun using a more stringent measure for air quality, and the first publicly announced readings showed the air was “hazardous” in at least two areas of the polluted capital city. The release of the data followed online protests and complaints that the U.S. Embassy in Beijing was providing a more accurate gauge of Beijing’s air than the city government, which typically tries to downplay the pollution as mere “fog.” [Source: Keith B. Richburg, Washington Post, January 19 2012]

In January 2012, the local government in Beijing said it had been collecting the finer measurements and would make them public. In its first release, the city’s meteorological office said the air posed hazardous conditions in two districts, Tongzhou and Fangshan. According to Xinhua, Beijing officials also announced new steps to try to clean up the air, including preventing dust from drifting from the city’s myriad construction sites, and new regulations to control the release of industrial pollutants.

David Vance Wagner, a former advisor to the Chinese government on air quality, suggests that its problem is political as well as technical. He told the Los Angeles Times, "Politically, it is hard to revise the standard. After 10 years of saying things are getting better and better, if you reverse that, people will be justifiably angry.” Wagner believes Beijing's air hasn't gotten worse since the Olympics, but that it hasn't improved either.

New Air Pollution Monitoring Rules

In March 2012, Mary Hennock wrote in The Guardian: Chinese authorities have set tougher rules to combat air pollution by ordering all major cities to monitor tiny particles that do serious damage to health. One of China's leading environmental activists, Ma Jun, greeted the change as a major step forward. Surprisingly, given China's strict control of the internet, state media have acknowledged the change is partly in response to online environmental campaigners. [Source: Mary Hennock, The Guardian, March 1, 2012]

The national air quality rules were agreed at an executive meeting of the state council presided over by the premier, Wen Jiabao, on 1 March, a statement on its website said. They order stricter air pollution monitoring standards this year in the mega-cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing and Tianjin, 27 provincial capitals, and three key industrial belts: the Yangtze and Pearl river deltas, and Beijing's hinterland. Another 113 cities must adopt new standards next year, and all but the smallest cities by 2015 to "help allay public concern over official air quality readings."

"This is a major step forward in terms of China's process to combat urban air pollution," said Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs. "The prerequisite for mobilising our people is to let them know what is going on. "It doesn't mean that the sky will turn blue automatically because at the end of the day we still need to cut off these emissions."

Following the announcement, more than a million---mostly positive---comments were posted on the Weibo micro-blogging service in under 24 hours. "Good news, applause," wrote Xu Xiaonian, a prominent economist. Others questioned whether the rules would be enforced.

Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times: “Membership in the upper ranks of the Chinese Communist Party has always had a few undeniable advantages. There are the state-supplied luxury sedans, special schools for the young ones and even organic produce grown on well-guarded, government-run farms. When they fall ill, senior leaders can check into 301 Military Hospital, long considered the capital’s premier medical institution. But even in their most addled moments of envy, ordinary Beijingers could take some comfort in the knowledge that the soupy air they breathe on especially polluted days also finds its way into the lungs of the privileged and pampered. [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, November 4, 2011]

Such assumptions, it seems, are not entirely accurate. As it turns out, the homes and offices of many top leaders are filtered by high-end devices, at least according to a Chinese company, the Broad Group, which has been promoting its air-purifying machines in advertisements that highlight their ubiquity in places where many officials work and live.

The company’s vice president, Zhang Zhong, said there were more than 200 purifiers scattered throughout Great Hall of the People, the office of China’s president, Hu Jintao, and Zhongnanhai, the walled compound for senior leaders and their families. “Creating clean, healthy air for our national leaders is a blessing to the people,” boasts the company’s promotional material, which includes endorsements from a variety of government and corporate leaders, among them Long Yongtu, a top economic official who insists on bringing the device along for car rides and hotel stays. “Breathing clean air is a basic human need,” he says in a testimonial.

In some countries, the gushing endorsement of a well-placed official would be considered a public relations coup. But in China, where resentment of the high and mighty is on the rise, news of the company’s advertising campaign is fueling a maelstrom of criticism. “They don’t have to eat gutter oil or drink poisoned milk powder and now they’re protected from filthy air,” said one posting on Sina Weibo, the country’s most popular microblog service. “This shows their indifference to the lives of ordinary people.”

According to the Broad Group’s Web site, it did not take much to convince the nation’s Communist Party leaders that they would do well to acquire the firm’s air purifiers, some of which cost $2,000. To make their case, company executives installed one in a meeting room used by members of the Politburo Standing Committee. The deal was apparently sealed a short while later, when technicians made a show of cleaning out the soot-laden filters. “After they saw the inklike dirty water, Broad air purifier became the national leaders’ appointed air purifier!” the Web site said.

China Asks Other Nations Not to Release Air Data

In June 2012, Keith Bradsher wrote in the New York Times: “Wu Xiaoqing, the vice minister for environmental protection, demanded that foreign governments stop releasing data on China’s air. In a criticism clearly aimed at the United States, Mr. Wu said at a news conference that the public release of air-quality data by foreign governments’ consulates “not only doesn’t abide by the spirits of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, but also violates relevant provisions of environmental protection.” He complained that data from just a few locations were unrepresentative of broader air quality in China. He asserted that it was a mistake for a few consulates in China to be assigning labels like “hazardous” to China’s air based on standards that were drafted in industrialized countries and tightened over many years. [Source: Keith Bradsher, New York Times, June 5, 2012]

“Such standards may not be appropriate for conditions in developing countries like China, Mr. Wu said, adding that “we hope the few consulates in China would respect our country’s relevant laws and regulations, and stop publishing this unrepresentative air-quality information.” In case anyone missed the point, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, Liu Weimin, said at a briefing later in the day, “Of course, if the foreign embassies want to collect air-quality information for their own staff or diplomats, I think that is their own matter, but we believe that this type of information should not be released to the public.” [Ibid]

“The American Embassy began tracking and releasing air-quality data in 2008, followed by its Guangzhou consulate in 2011 and the Shanghai consulate in May 2012. Officials in China and Hong Kong have grudgingly responded by moving to release their own data on extremely fine particles measuring 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter, a size that penetrates particularly deep into lungs and has been linked to cancer and other respiratory problems. Public awareness in China of the health hazards associated with extremely fine particles has soared with the release of the American data, and particularly smoggy days now set off a surge in mentions of “PM2.5" on Weibo, a popular Chinese microblogging service similar to Twitter. [Ibid]

“The criticism of the United States by Chinese officials comes after officials in Shanghai have recently taken exception to the public availability of data from the new monitor there. Richard L. Buangan, the American Embassy spokesman, wrote in an e-mail that the monitor “is a resource for the health of the consulate community, but is also available through our Twitter feed for American citizens who may find the data useful.” He added, “We caution, however, that citywide analysis of air quality cannot be done using readings from a single machine.” Mr. Buangan declined to comment on how the Vienna conventions might or might not have any legal bearing on the air monitors or the release of the data. [Ibid]

Environmental News; David Wolman Blogspot; YouTube, Julie Chao, U.S. Olympics

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated January 2014

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