China Releases More Detailed Air Pollution Data
January 22, 2012

China Releases More Detailed Air Pollution Data

For the first time on Saturday, Beijing officials released data disclosing the amount of minute particles polluting the air in what Reuters has called "of the world's most heavily polluted capitals."

According to the Xinhua news agency, the Beijing Environment Protection Monitoring Center revealed that a monitoring station in the city detected 0.003 micrograms of fine particular matter of 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter (PM2.5), which equates to an air-quality rating of "good."

The Associated Press (AP) notes that this was the first time Chinese environmental authorities publically released data on PM2.5 levels, covering particles that are roughly 1/30th the width of the average human hair.

Due to their tiny size, they are more likely to penetrate deep into a person's lungs, and that, according to the AP, makes them "a more accurate reflection of air quality than other methods."

Officials are releasing hourly PM2.5 readings originating from a monitoring station located approximately four miles west of Tiananmen Square, the Monitoring Center's website said on Saturday, according to the AP.

However, readings taken at a U.S. Embassy site, located in the eastern part of downtown Beijing, said that the PM2.5 levels were "moderate" at noon Eastern time and "good" at 4pm Eastern time.

Previously, Beijing officials only released levels of airborne PM10 particles, or particles that were at least 10 microns across, BBC News reported. Saturday's PM2.5 release came as the result of an online campaign seeking China to improve and reform their monitoring system, the British news organization added.

Those first publicly-released measurements came on "a day where you could see blue sky" following "a week of smothering smog," thanks to a sky-clearing northern wind, the AP reported. Likewise, Lucy Hornby and Wan Xu of Reuters called Saturday "a clear crisp day that contrasted with the thick smog earlier in the week."

"It shows that the government is responding to popular concerns about air pollution," Environmental Consultant Steven Andrews, who has studied Beijing air pollution since 2006, told Hornby and Xu.

"It's a recognition by the government that the way it was monitored and reported in the past didn't reflect people's perception of how serious the problem is," he added.

In a separate interview with the AP, Andrews said he was "suspicious" of the reported PM2.5 level.

"In all of 2010 and 2011, the U.S. Embassy reported values at or below that level only 18 times out of over 15,000 hourly values or about 0.1 percent of the time," Andrews told the wire service.

"PM2.5 concentrations vary by area so a direct comparison between sites isn't possible, but the numbers being reported during some hours seem surprisingly low," he added.

According to Reuters, Chinese experts have previously criticized the U.S. Embassy statistics, which are posted online through the social network Twitter on an hourly basis, as "unscientific."


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