Beijing Opens Up on Pollution
Image Credit: Bfishadow

Beijing Opens Up on Pollution


In what could prove a significant step in terms of transparency and responsiveness over environmental monitoring in China, officials in Beijing have announced that they will allow members of the public to visit the city’s pollution monitoring center.

The move comes as frustration has grown over what has seemed to locals to be a discrepancy between the official air pollution readings and the reality on the ground.

At present, Beijing’s environmental bureau releases data on pollutants with a diameter greater than 10 micrometers. However, this decision has come in for heavy criticism from environmentalists who argue that the more dangerous smaller particles (less than 2.5 micrometers) aren’t included in the daily publicly released readings.

The problems for city officials have been compounded by the fact that the U.S. Embassy releases regular updates on air quality in Beijing that include the smaller particles, updates that often significantly differ from the city’s official readings. On October 9, for example, the U.S. Embassy stated that its reading was “beyond index,” meaning that pollution exceeded any rating on the scale. The reading, according to one air quality expert, is something that couldn’t occur in the United States unless you were “downwind from a forest fire.”

The same day, Beijing city officials described the city’s air as “slightly polluted.”

"The air pollution in Beijing is so terrible right now there are days when I feel I can't breathe,” says Xueqin Jiang, a high school teacher in Beijing and contributor to The Diplomat. “I usually try to escape Beijing for a few days during the month, or otherwise I feel I'll become overwhelmed by the air pollution, the noise pollution, the traffic congestion, the cold weather."

Frustrated by the discrepancies in the official and U.S. readings, celebrity property developer Pan Shiyi launched an online poll on his microblog asking if the city should adopt the U.S. standard for measuring pollution. Pan’s blog has 7 million followers and within days tens of thousands of people had registered their votes, with the vast majority – more than 95 percent – so far calling for the stricter readings to be adopted.

The environmental bureau has responded by allowing 40 people to tour the monitoring once a week, a move that is significant less for its practical usefulness as for the fact that it shows city officials are willing to respond positively to public unrest.

The move also marks the first time that the local government has opened the doors of watchdog to individual guests since it was opened in 1974.

“We want the public to see how we work and further convince the public of the sincerity of our efforts and improve our environmental awareness,” said Wang Xiaoming, spokesman for the bureau, according to China Daily.

According to the paper, “guests on the tours will be taken around the center to see how workers there collect, analyze and release air-quality data. The bureau said they are invited to ask experts questions during the tour.”

The city also held out the prospect that it could eventually adopt the U.S. standard for measuring pollution.

“According to Wei Qiang, an engineer at the monitoring center, 27 monitoring stations have been established throughout the city to collect data about nitric oxide, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, PM 10 (particles less than 10 micrometers in diameter) and other pollutants. Workers in the center's central equipment room later analyze those data and arrange to have them released to the public,” China Daily reported.

“We have also established monitoring stations that analyze the city's pollutant intensity for PM 2.5 and PM 1,” Wei is quoted as saying. “The data will be released in the future, when the city adopts a PM 2.5 standard.”

November 12, 2011 at 06:22

As the largest manufacturer to the world pollution is an inevitable side effect. As China becomes wealthier it has to manage a balance between growth and the environment and I think this is a good first step.

I have to wonder though, if Chinese citizens are given the choice between an increase in unemployment rate verses cleaner air, which one would they choose. I suspect most of the migrants would choose better employment over pollution, while the middle class would choose cleaner air. Ironically, the wealthier middle class are also the ones who are more responsible for pollution through personal consumption.

November 11, 2011 at 14:11

I still wouldn’t advocate for the Diplomat to relocate to china. Not safe.

yang zi
November 10, 2011 at 13:20

Polution is destroying China’s environment, the sharp critism is needed to correct this . Critism bases on fact is very powerful. If the-diplomat locates to China, it will increase its weight and profile. If CCP kicks it out, it can get some more exposure. It would be the best move for the-diplomat.

November 10, 2011 at 09:30

Well, the first post was by yangzi.
If JC posts here he will probably claim this is a US ploy to cause unrest in China in order to make China a US colony, hehe.

November 10, 2011 at 03:04

Where are all the chinese posters? Come out and do tell us how great china is, don’t be shy and modest. Just tell us readers about how great the ccp and how they treat their own country.

November 10, 2011 at 01:55

@yangzi: You’re suggesting to put people in harm’s way. This is not nice.

yang zi
November 9, 2011 at 18:26

Mr. Jason Miks is doing some great work. I actually suggest the-diplomat to move to Beijing, you can continue to publish critical or biased articles just to show it to CCP.

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