China / Society

Mobile app to fight smog near Beijing

By WANG XIAODONG in Beijing and ZHANG MIN in Tianjin ( Updated: 2014-11-06 19:12

Residents living in areas around Beijing with a smartphone may soon be able to report cases of air pollution this winter with the debut of a new mobile app.

The mobile application will be put into service around Nov 15 in Langfang and Baoding, two cities that border Beijing, Mao Hongjun, a professor in environmental science at Nankai University in Tianjin, said on Thursday.

Mao is a leading member of a research team that is developing the application. The team, comprising about 70 experts in various fields, focuses on research on fighting smog and PM2.5, particles smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter that are a major contributor to smog, according to Mao.

Anyone with the app on their smartphone will be able to take photos of cases of air pollution, such as burning trash in the open air and discharging untreated pollutants by enterprises, and send them to a public website run by relevant government authorities, he said.

"The GPS system on the phone will record the location and time when the photos are taken and all the information will be sent together to the website along with the photos," Mao said.

The authority staff then will notify air-pollution control inspectors that are deployed all over the city to go to the site and deal with the violations, he said.

Mao said the governments of the two cities have shown great support for the program, which make it possible for its wide application.

Wu Lin, Mao's assistant, said the Langfang and Baoding in Hebei province are heavily polluted, a reason why the two cities were chosen as pilots for the application.

The province, which borders Beijing, is China's biggest producer of steel. Areas around Beijing contribute to half of PM 2.5 in Beijing's air during severely polluted days, according to a report by Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau released in October.

The province has taken a number of measures to fight pollution in recent years, including reducing industrial capacity and adopting new pollution-control technologies for factories.

"The new application may mobilize the whole society to fight air pollution and increase the efficiency," Mao said. "Lack of environmental staff has been a major problem that hinders progress of environmental protection."

Mao said in order to encourage people to care about environment; those who have reported serious pollutions may be financially rewarded.

"With the support of the government, we have founded a foundation, and the amount has reached to 500,000 yuan ($82,000)," he said.

According to Mao, research of the application is almost completed, and now his team members are testing the application.

"There is still room for technological improvement," he said. "For example, many environmental violations may happen at night, so how can we get clear pictures with mobile phones at night?"

Mao is optimistic about the future of the program, as it has got support from the local government, he said.

In order to reduce pollutants emission during the ongoing APEC Economic Leaders' Week being held in Beijing, Hebei started to implement an odd-even license plate policy for cars on Monday, which means cars will only be able to drive on alternating days in most cities in the province.

Similar measures have also been taken in neighboring areas of Beijing, such as Tianjin and Shandong province.

In Jinan, capital of Shandong, odd-even license plate policy will be adopted every day between 7 am to 9 pm between Friday and Wednesday next week, and violators will be fined 200 yuan, Wang Hongbin, an official at Jinan police bureau, said.

Vehicles for public services, such as buses and ambulances, are exempt from the restrictions, he said.

Zhao Ruixue and Zhang Yu contributed to this story.

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