Thursday, 17 November 2011

Pushing for the Truth

I'm so glad I'm not living in Beijing anymore, not that Hong Kong has pristine air quality conditions, but marginally better...

At any rate the debate raging in the Chinese capital is about how there aren't comprehensive readings of the air there, as there is a huge discrepancy between what the Environment Ministry says and what the US Embassy tweets in its Twitter account.

Yesterday the US Embassy described the air quality as "dangerous" while the local environmental watchdog said it was "slightly polluted".

Who are you going to believe?

The crux of the matter is the reading of PM2.5 or airborne particles smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter. It's these microscopic particles that can cause serious respiratory problems and even lung cancer.

Most cities around the world give PM2.5 readings, but not China, which still sticks to its outdated pollution standards. That's why it still steadfastly maintains Beijing is only "slightly polluted", when in the last few days people have reported swampy air that smells like gas and that children are complaining of respiratory problems.

The ministry yesterday announced it would revise draft rules for public consultation and add PM2.5 readings -- but not until 2016. It added some regions might adopt the readings earlier, and urge local governments to voluntarily implement the new rules, but this is not mandatory.

The air pollution readings are a very touchy subject for China because if and when the public finds out exactly how polluted their living environments are compared to other countries, they are not going to be a happy bunch.

Peking University expert Zhang Yuanhang said including PM2.5 readings would mean a drop of up to 80 percent of the number of "blue sky" days recorded for many mainland cities, which could fuel public dissatisfaction.

Many cities could record PM2.5 now and probably have been doing so for years, but the public has never had access to that information.

Once the information is out we could see a correlation between PM2.5 readings and cancer rates. Sounds like a ticking time bomb waiting to explode.

The Chinese have been told to obey the Communist Party and they do so and only to expect to be looked after in return.

But when the air they breathe is terribly polluted, what recourse do the people have?

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