China / Hot Issues

Better use of air quality reports urged

By Zheng Xin in Beijing and Xu Jingxi in Guangzhou (China Daily) Updated: 2012-10-25 08:12

Despite marked improvement of the transparency of China's air quality data over the past year, academics and NGOs suggest the government can make better use of real-time air pollution reports.

According to a survey on Chinese cities' air quality transparency - which was conducted by the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs from Jan 1 to Aug 31 across 113 cities - the public is now better informed about the condition of the air.

Most cities followed the recommendations of the Ministry of Environmental Protection, which asked 74 cities to apply more comprehensive air quality monitoring standards, including checking levels of PM2.5, ozone and carbonic oxide in the air.

PM2.5 are particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, which can cause respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

"The gap in air quality transparency between cities in China and other international cities has been greatly reduced over the past year," said Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs. "However, some cities are still doing poorly with no PM2.5 monitoring stations set up or delayed."

Even cities like Beijing - which has PM2.5 real-time reports - are not fully using the hourly updates to fight pollution, he said.

It's also necessary for the government to come up with an alert system or emergency mechanism for heavy-pollution days, Ma said. The public should be warned against being outdoors on those days, and schools should cancel outdoor activities, he said.

"Authorities should not only release the real-time reports on the Internet, but should also provide more user-friendly and straightforward descriptions of the air quality," said Ma.

Weibo, a Chinese micro-blogging service, has been proved to be an effective channel to release the data, he said.

This view was echoed by Wang Wuyi, a researcher with the Institute of Geographic Sciences and National Resources Research.

Members of the public need accurate and brief descriptions of the air quality around their neighborhoods instead of a list of dry figures, Wang said.

Zhu Xiao, associate professor of the Renmin University of China, said that education authorities and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention should jointly set up a mechanism to prevent children from going out when the air is too polluted.

According to Huang Zuzhao, deputy director of the Guangzhou Environmental Monitoring Center, Guangzhou residents now get air-quality information through colored maps, so that they can easily assess the conditions in their neighborhoods.

The center publishes real-time data on its Weibo account, and Huang believes it also would be a good idea to offer the information via applications used in mobile devices.

"We'll keep working hard to make the published data practical for people. They can now get advice on whether the air quality is good enough for outdoor activities on the center's website and on Sina Weibo," Huang said.

Beijing has also vowed to further improve its emergency plan to respond to heavy pollution, with measures including halting transportation around construction site, to avoid raising dust, and cleaning and watering the roads.

However, the details of the plan have not yet been released.

"We've sent a request to the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau asking for the details of the emergency plan weeks ago, but we haven't received any reply yet," said Wang Qiuxia, a researcher with Green Beagle, an environmental protection NGO.

A total of 29 cities, including Zhengzhou in Central China's Henan province and Southwest China's Chongqing, had not set up air-pollution reports as of Aug 31, the survey said.

As many as 192 stations in 56 cities have started monitoring PM2.5 levels in the past year, while 104 stations in 26 cities have started monitoring ozone levels, and 96 stations nationwide began measuring the intensity of carbon monoxide, said the survey.

Beijing - which set up 35 citywide air-monitoring stations in October that release hourly updates on PM2.5, along with reports on sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and PM10 - tops the air-quality transparency index, followed by Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Dongguan, all of which are in South China's Guangdong province.

"It's exciting that Guangzhou is among the top three cities, which means that our hard work has been recognized by our peers nationwide and the general public," said Huang.

"We're planning to add more monitoring sites, and to offer people easier and more diversified access to the information," said Huang.

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