The PM2.5 problem in Beijing has started drawing public attention since the US embassy in China introduced the actual pollution condition on internet in the fall of 2012. In response, the Beijing government started PM2.5 air quality monitoring at 35 sites over the city in January 2013. In addition, the environmental standard is announced in the form of 6 levels of the air quality index (API) for PM2.5. This API- based standard will be enforced throughout the entire China in 2016. The cleanest level is displayed in “green” color, whose API ranges from 0 to 50 and the corresponding concentration is 0-35μｇ/m3 in daily average. The dirtiest level is displayed in “reddish brown”, meaning very severe air pollution. The corresponding values are 301-500 in API and 250-500 μｇ/m3 in concentration. The medium level is displayed in “red” color with the corresponding values of 151-200 in API and 115-150μｇ/ｍ3 in concentration.
The above API designation method is based on Air Quality Index which has long been used in the US. China’s interpretation for health implication, however, is relaxed in daily average PM2.5 concentration, despite the fact of using the same API value. The “red” color in China indicates “moderate pollution” while in the US it does “hazardous to health” which is more explicit for the health effect. Both countries use similar description for API’s health implications. China’s description tends to be more modest. For example, the corresponding PM2.5 concentration for “red” is 115-150 μｇ/m3 in China while in the US it is 65-150 μｇ/m3. The lower limit is obviously more severe in the US. This API display has a merit in that it can be displayed spatially over the map. For me, however, the real time display of hourly measured concentrations at 35 air monitoring stations over the city appears more informative for the citizens to take a precautionary measure against the air pollution.
This documentary program tells that PM2.5 air pollution is not limited to winter time and is pretty severe in summer time as well. The program showed that on July 19, 2013, the number of monitoring stations exceeded 150 in API is 32 out of 35 stations in the city, amounting 91% of the stations. The program was made from the jointly collected material by NGO entitled “Darwin Environmental Protection Laboratory” and China National TV. The NGO spokesman, Ms. He, (Ph.D. in Environmental Science, Beijing University) says that 600 million people accounting for 46% of China’s population are already subjected to some health hazard from PM2.5 pollution. The particularly polluted regions are Beijing and its surrounding area (Hebei Province, City of Tianjin), Yangtze River delta, and Zhu Jiang delta. These three regions account for one forth of the whole China.
In the above program, Ms. He visited many polluted locations and conducted a simplified measurement. It was impressive that her measurement indicated 184 μg/m3 near a power plant, while in construction site and in residential area, the measurement did 275 and 237 μg/m3, respectively. These values exhibit vividly that “medium pollution” and “severe pollution” in API prevailed. The emission sources of PM2.5 are said to be brick factory, numerous barbecue stands in the city, and residential coal burning in the city suburbs. The program broadcasted the picture of her surprised moment when her measurement instrument recorded 2000 μg/m3 right next to a barbecue stand. In the relatively poor homes in the suburbs still use high sulfur coal for the heating source of cooking and space heating. This means that they are exposed to sulfur dioxide as well as PM2.5, implying the health hazard from both pollutants.
As to brick factories, 169 factories were forced to close in one week and the people worked there lost their jobs, creating a new social problem. Ms. He was pleading that the air pollution is extremely bad as exemplified by the many hazy days in summer. In responding to these pollution conditions, the China’s central government announced the allocation of 5 trillion Yen equivalent, 30% reduction of major facilities burning coal by the end of 2014, and strengthening the exposure of illegal operation of factories by the year 2015, which will lead to the closure of as many as 1200 factories.
The documentary program also reported that the Beijing government set up a pollution call center and handled the gripes from the citizens, and that the song “Beijing-Beijing” was arranged to a smog parody which is sang widely as the song appealing the prevailing predicament of Beijing smog.
In the future, I would like to challenge the institutional difference in handling the environmental problems between China and Japan, focusing such issues of the crime and the lawsuit in environmental pollution, and the compensation for health impairment.
Translated into English by Ph.D. Y. Horie of the Green Blue Corporation’s Adviser