China to release pollution data in 74 cities

December 31, 2012

China will begin releasing air pollution readings every hour in 74 of its biggest cities from New Year's Day, after years of public pressure. Around 8,600 people in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Xi'an died prematurely this year because of PM2.5 pollution. 

Air pollution is a serious concern in many of China's cities, but the authorities have obfuscated or manipulated pollution data for years.

However, the Chinese state media said on Sunday that 496 monitoring stations would release data in real time on six types of pollutants, including sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide and on PM2.5, particles that are so small they can only be detected by an electron microscope, but which can cause respiratory and heart disease.

Around 8,600 people in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Xi'an died prematurely this year because of PM2.5 pollution, according to a recent study by Peking University and Greenpeace.

The pollution data will be available on the internet and through smartphone apps, said the Ministry of Environmental Pollution. There will also be daily readings on television and radio bulletins.

The Chinese government has been under pressure to improve transparency on air pollution after the US Embassy in Beijing, and then the US Consulate in Shanghai, began broadcasting pollution readings collected on the roofs of its buildings.

The release of the official data will leave local governments less room to manipulate their statistics and hide the country's worsening pollution problem.

It will also hamper other local governments from exaggerating how bad their air is in order to win pollution treatment funding from Beijing.

Zhao Hualin, the ministry's director of pollution prevention, said recently that around 70 per cent of mainland cities would fail to meet standards for PM2.5 pollution.

Meanwhile, officials in the central city of Nanjing said on Friday that the city would only see around 220 "blue sky days" a year under the new system, compared to 314 days under current standards.

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