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Non-government air quality assessments on the rise due to distrust over official data | November 01, 2011 19:01
By Jin Jianyu
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Skyscrapers in Dawanglu, Beijing, are shrouded in a heavy haze on Monday. The haze descended on the city Sunday and citizens are advised to stay indoors to avoid pollution. Photo: CFP

Zeal for independent assessments of air quality has been on the rise nationwide in China recently, amid public distrust over official data resulting from the failure of national evaluations to include PM2.5 level, an air pollution index used worldwide, in their calculations. 

Non-governmental organizations, commercial elites and common citizens have joined the trend and released their self-assessments of air quality via the Internet.

"An increasing number of citizens contacted us regarding self-assessment of air quality near their living compounds starting last week," Wang Qiuxia, an employee at the Beijing-based Darwen Natural Knowledge-seeking Association, a self-described "green beagle" non-government organization, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Wang said that approximately a dozen people had made inquiries between Monday and Tuesday, as "they felt the air recently was worse than shown in official statistics," compared with only 30 inquiries in the period between mid-July and Monday.

"The results from the PM2.5 index are closer to the feeling of the population about the air than those from the PM10," Sun Qingwei, the director of the climate and energy research department at Greenpeace, a non-governmental organization in Beijing, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

"The PM2.5 could expose more threats to the human respiratory and blood circulation system than the PM10 due to its smaller size, and can serve as a more effective way of warning the population," Sun added.

Nevertheless, Sun stated that the PM10 standard, which is more appropriate for large spaces, can be of greater value, as small sample sizes are not always representative of the whole.

Recently revealed large differences in air pollution degrees released by the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau (BEPB) have generated a national heated discussion over the standards adopted by the Beijing authorities. The dispute originated in discrepancies between the BEPB and the US embassy in China, who had respectively described similar levels of air pollution as "slight" and "hazardous."

Du Shaozhong, deputy director of the BEPB, ascribed public distrust over the official statistics to "the lack of public knowledge of air quality monitoring terms," such as the standard, regulation, index and density, "together with the recent consecutive dense fogs and the west statistics", according to a Sina microblog verified as his on Tuesday.

"Personally, I advise authorities to involve both PM10 and PM2.5 levels in the national environment evaluation standards and thereby let citizens themselves judge which standard to follow," Sun added.

Zhao Hualin, the department head of pollution control for the Ministry of Environmental Protection, said in a national environment forum this year that the authorities would include the PM2.5 index in the new version of the national regulations for air quality as soon as possible.

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