Six Chinese cities launched new air pollution monitoring systems in the past two weeks, as one of the country’s leading physicians warned that dirty skies could become China’s most serious health threat.
The northeastern coastal city of Dalian began releasing new air pollution readings on March 30. Citizens were invited to watch as environmental protection workers inaugurated the city’s new PM 2.5 monitor, which measures airborne particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter.
A local government news website reported that the first reading was 12 micrograms per cubic meter, far lower than the maximum limit of 75 micrograms mandated by new regulations.
A plan issued on February 29 by China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection calls for cities across the country to meet the new, tougher air quality standards by January 2016.
In Jiangsu province, a PM 2.5 monitoring system was launched in five cities on March 30, with 17 air quality measurement devices collecting data.
Air pollution readings from the 17 stations will be available 24 hours every day on the website of the province’s environmental protection department.
The Jiangnan Evening News reported that on the first day measurements were released, the lowest pollution levels were in Wuxi, a small tourist city on the outskirts of Shanghai.
The highest reading was 141 micrograms, taken in the provincial capital Nanjing.
Nanjing’s PM 2.5 measurement system had earlier attracted criticism for choosing measurement locations in areas with lower levels of air pollution. Netizens accused local officials of trying to obtain more favorable air quality readings by placing monitoring devices in sparsely-populated green areas.
The city’s Environmental Monitoring Center replied that they were acting according to national regulations, and had chosen a diverse array of measurement sites.
Dalian and Jiangsu are only the most recent cities and provinces to launch new air pollution monitoring systems in recent weeks.
On March 24, Zhejiang province inaugurated 16 measurement sites in five cities. The provincial government says it plans to install a total of 153 sites over the next three years.
The southern province of Guangdong began releasing PM 2.5 data collected in the heavily-populated Pearl River Delta on March 8. Data for other areas in the province will be made public starting in June.
PM 2.5 monitoring has become a major issue in China over the past months, with experts and ordinary citizens calling for more accurate and widespread air pollution measurements in cities across the country.
On March 16, one of China’s leading health authorities called for greater public awareness and government attention to the problem of air pollution.
In an interview with The Guardian, Zhong Nanshan, president of the China Medical Association, warned that “if the government neglects this matter, it will be the biggest health problem facing China.”
Zhong, who rose to prominence in 2002 by breaking official silence to reveal the full extent of the SARS epidemic, said that “the situation now is better” and expressed confidence that authorities were becoming more transparent in dealing with the problem of air pollution.
"At the very beginning of that [SARS] epidemic, it was really terrible,” he said. “We have learned a lesson.”
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