Monday January 7, 2013
Real-time air quality checks
MADE IN CHINA
BY CHOW HOW BAN
Govt makes good on promise to overhaul monitoring system and publish data that is accessible to the public.
TRUE to its promise, the Chinese government has started publishing real-time air quality monitoring data on areas with PM2.5 in 74 major cities since the first day of the new year.
The country used to only measure air quality for PM10, or the concentration of particulate matter of less than 10 microns in diameter.
Amid tremendous pressure from the public calling for the government to tell the real current state of haze problem, the authorities overhauled its air quality standard to PM2.5 to measure the finer particulate matter of less than 2.5 microns in diameter.
Experts say PM2.5 deposits in the lungs can be hazardous to the human nervous system and cause cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.
However, glitches of the dissemination of information on the air quality index (AQI) on the China National Environmental Monitoring Centre’s website over last week have raised questions whether the new monitoring system is fully ready.
The AQI, which replaces the previous air pollutant index (API), covers six types of air pollutants, namely sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, ozone, PM10 and PM2.5.
A check on the website (www.cnemc.cn) on last Friday morning turned out to be futile. The website was only back running in the afternoon.
Beijing News also reported last Tuesday that several websites of the respective provincial and municipal monitoring centres linked to the nationwide www.cnemc.cn could not be opened or refreshed properly.
The newspaper claimed that the www.cnemc.cn site was not stable while the Tianjin municipal monitoring centre’s website could not be accessed and the centres at Chengdu and Xining cities did not provide any links to their websites.
In Shandong province, residents wrote to Qilu Evening News and complained that the provincial website providing information on the AQI including the new PM2.5 readings was not updated for five consecutive days, starting from Dec 28.
Some complainants wondered whether the workers responsible for putting up the AQI data on the website had also taken leave for the three-day New Year holiday break in China.
Others hoped that the provincial environmental monitoring centre would not fall into the typical Chinese mentality of having a good start but finishing poorly.
After days of glitches, the website is now working again.
The www.cnemc.cn website and its associated provincial and municipal portals have been standardised to include information on readings of the six air pollutants which are measured at monitoring stations in the respective cities.
The former provides an overview of all the AQI readings at 31 provinces, autonomous regions and municipals while the latter zooms in on each of them.
At a press conference held in Beijing on Dec 28, Meng Xiaoyan, an engineer at the China National Environmental Monitoring Centre, said that the real-time AQI reports would play a significant role in improving the country’s air quality and pollution controls.
“The public has the right to know about the environmental conditions. The monitoring stations will further satisfy that need,” she was quoted by China Daily as saying.
The overhaul of the air quality standard is one of the government’s major projects last year to tackle pollution which has worsened in certain parts of China in recent years.
Under the project, 113 cities will adopt the AQI standards by the end of this year and the whole country will be covered by 2015.
According to Wan Bentai, an engineer at the Environmental Protection Ministry, the central and local governments had invested a total of 950 million yuan (RM465mil) in the setting up of air quality monitoring stations capable of reading PM2.5 pollutants.
He said there were already 1,436 such stations in place – double the number in 2010 – and 96 more would be built in rural areas.
It is learnt that data collected from the stations nationwide would be updated every 15 to 40 minutes on the centre’s websites. Some cities have also a smartphone application to access the data.