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Is China Waking Up and Smelling Its Pollution?

Is China Waking Up and Smelling Its Pollution?

My parents visited China last year and one thing stood out in nearly every photo: the murky-colored sky, often full of grayish clouds. I don’t think I saw the sun shining in a single picture from their almost two-week trip. My parents also noted that, due to it being warmer than expected — what with that constant haze — they’d had to make a few purchases of lighter clothing when visiting Beijing, Shanghai and other sites.

More than half of Chinese citizens think their government should make the environment a top priority. Chinese authorities are finally starting to wake up and smell the pollution.

Last Saturday, the Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center said that it has completed a network of monitoring stations to “more accurately” assess air quality in China’s capital city of more than 19 million, says the Guardian. The monitors release real-time data about PM2.5, small particulates that may be given off from cars, trucks and power plants burning fuel and that can penetrate the lungs and cause respiratory illnesses.

Beijing authorities only began the monitoring at the instigation of Chinese citizens, who became aware of how polluted the city’s air is thanks to Americans. The US Embassy in Beijing has been (to China’s displeasure) measuring PM2.5 via a rooftop monitor on its compound and publishing the results via Twitter, via @BeijingAir.

Noting that the Chinese government has criticized the US for monitoring Beijing’s air quality and making the results public, US ambassador Gary Locke recently said at an event at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC:

…we feel it’s a duty – our duty to inform our dependents and our Americans of the air conditions there so they can make appropriate decisions regarding the health of their children and themselves. We’re expanding this to all the different consulates throughout China.

US consulates in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chengdu also measure and report on air quality; Locke said that the same monitoring will also be done at the US consulates in the cities of Shenyang and Wuhan.

Locke emphasized that it’s what can’t be seen, “the really invisible stuff” — particles like PM2.5 — that are especially dangerous to people’s health. Indeed, Locke compared the PM 2.5 exposure that residents of Beijing endure as almost “akin to being exposed to secondhand smoke constantly, or even smoking several packs a day.”

Currently, Beijing authorities use a particle larger than PM2.5 to measure air quality in the city. They plan to use the new monitors for a three-month trial and then formally switch to using PM2.5, which provides a more accurate gauge of air quality. Monitors have been installed in central Beijing and its suburbs, as well as near popular tourist sites including Tiananmen Square, the Temple of Heaven and the Beijing botanical garden.

Certainly, air quality in Beijing does not sound too appealing, as the Guardian describes it:

White mist sat stubbornly among the capital’s skyscrapers on Sunday as people travelled [sic] home on the final day of an eight-day public holiday that had brought with it mostly blue skies as industry shut down.

China had requested that the US stop publishing the data in June, on the grounds that it “wasn’t fair to judge Chinese air by American standards because China is a developing country” and because US environmental guidelines have evolved to become far stricter. But isn’t the US doing China a favor, by urging it to discover how poor the air quality in Beijing is and how dangerous it is for Chinese citizens being subjected to the risk of respiratory diseases and coughing like smokers?


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Photo by bfishadow

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5:36AM PST on Feb 3, 2013

Brutal... This is why you can't trust the government and people need to get back to being close with nature again.

3:29AM PST on Feb 3, 2013

Thanks............I don't believe their govenrment cares about individual people..........

6:22PM PST on Feb 1, 2013

They need to recognize and not run away from there problems I hope they do the right thing and clean up the pollution!

6:45AM PST on Jan 17, 2013

Noting that the Chinese government has criticized the US for monitoring Beijing’s air quality and making the results public,

Ha ha we're going to get harrassed for sharing too much. China's got a lot to hide and they're very proud.

6:55PM PST on Nov 4, 2012

China is no "developing nation" has more money than any western nation. That's the excuse of their corrupt government criminals to commit more horrific crimes for their cronies insatiable greed. Like most of modern Asia, China has no culture or tradition left and is completely devoid of ethics. And as Asia today, China's only "culture" is selfish greed..using any criminal means including murdering their own population to that end. Asia is a degraded monster contributing the most to Earth's final environmental destruction.

5:44AM PDT on Oct 17, 2012

thanks for sharing :)

11:48PM PDT on Oct 15, 2012

Pay attention to photos taken in China....the air is always thick and grey! We got SICK there...because our lungs weren't used to all the particulate matter in the air.

Our local guide blamed it on "farmers burning corn husks."


2:50AM PDT on Oct 14, 2012

It shocks me how countries who have professed a philosophy of caring for the equality and rights of all citizens can turn a blind eye to their welfare. Why must our planet pay for these environmental disasters when they can be avoided through proper care and precautions. This is shameful and dangerous.

3:30PM PDT on Oct 13, 2012

I really hope China starts ding something about their pollution. Being one of the most industrialized countries in the world, they must produce a huge amount of pollution. They need draconian control over the air pollution regulations and need to make people more aware of this environmental and health problem.

12:39PM PDT on Oct 13, 2012

Continued from below....

If you want to be respected as a world leader then show us how mature you are by admitting your mistakes; cleaning up your messes. Set the example for Shell and BP and all the other sociopathic corporate bourgeois entities the way. We have enough puerile, sophomoric goons at the helm already. Lead by example and you might find that there are a lot of us Kwai los more than willing to help.

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