Official: Beijing Air Quality “Relatively Poor”

In Beijing, levels of two key air pollutants in the first three months of this year had increased by nearly 30% compared with the same period in 2012, according to a Chinese media report which cited a local government official. From Edward Wong of The New York Times:

The pollutants — nitrous dioxide and particulate matter that is between 2.5 and 10 micrometers in diameter, called PM 10 — appeared to have surged sharply in January, showing levels 47 percent higher than the same month last year, according to the report by Beijing News that was translated into English by The Economic Observer. The report cited as its source Chen Tian, the head of the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau.

A third pollutant, sulfur dioxide, decreased slightly over the same three-month period.

Mr. Chen said the main reason for the increase in two pollutants was high levels of emissions. Citing Mr. Chen, the report said “the emissions created by those living and producing in the city far exceed what the environment can take.”

Air pollution in Beijing reached record levels in January as the capital city battled a winter “airpocalypse” that one Chinese public health expert called worse than SARS. Several recent studies have linked pollution to birth defects and premature deaths in China, and the country’s new leaders have declared “ecological progress” a priority even though bureaucratic infighting has threatened to complicate any potential solutions.

Chris Luo of The South China Morning Post has more on Chen’s comments:

He made the remarks on Tuesday on radio after listeners asked why smog had become so bad in Beijing. Public concern about air pollution remains high in the capital after it was frequently shrouded in thick smog earlier this year.

In a document dubbed “Cleaning Air Operation Plan 2013” made public last month, Beijing authorities vowed to lower major air pollutants by 2 per cent this year. To reach this goal, the city announced 52 measures including phasing out about 180,000 vehicles with high emission levels and growing more than 58,000 acres of forest around Beijing.

Chen admitted climate and geological factors had contributed to the “relatively poor air quality”. But he said a major problem was also soaring vehicle emissions and high daily emissions in urban areas.

Phillip Bump of the Atlantic Wire has more on the implications of air pollution in Beijing and beyond:

One of the primary ways in which air pollution kills is the presence of small particles, generally released from burning fossil fuels and other industrial activity. The Lung Association explains how particulate matter kills. The particles are generally measures in two sizes: those smaller than ten microns in diameter and those smaller than 2.5 microns — far, far smaller than the width of a human hair. “Particle pollution,” the Association writes, “can be very dangerous to breathe. Breathing particle pollution may trigger illness, hospitalization and premature death, risks showing up in new studies that validate earlier research.”


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