Beijing's Environmental Protection Bureau invited the first batch of individual visitors to its monitoring center Tuesday, a gesture to clear doubts over credibility in its air quality monitoring led by online allegations for the past month.
Seven residents, including a representative from a local environmental protection organization, came to the Environmental Monitoring Center inside the bureau Tuesday afternoon for a 40-minute visit. Center engineers explained to them the whole process of air quality monitoring and how monitoring equipment works.
"Among the 27 major monitoring stations citywide, 11 distributed mostly in central districts are where we collect data to get an average air pollution index (API) for Beijing," said Li Yunting, an engineer with the center.
Except from the major stations, which monitor pollutants such as SO2, CO, O3 and PM10 (particulate matter smaller than 10 microns), the bureau has several experimental sub-stations along major traffic arteries citywide that monitor other things, such as the impact of car exhaust and PM2.5. But, these results were not released, she said.
The center employs a national monitoring standard and is reviewed by the China National Environmental Monitoring Center every three years.
"We guarantee our data is true and collect in a scientific way," said Wang Xiaoming, media department director of the bureau. "And we have a quality control system to ensure the accuracy of the data. I don't know how the monitoring system of the US embassy works and how they keep their data accurate."
Doubts over the authenticity of the bureau's data originated from the contrast between its official API and the air quality index (AQI) from the US embassy, which independently monitors PM2.5 in Beijing and updates hourly on its website. The bureau categorized the city's air as "slightly polluted" while the embassy said it was "unhealthy" or "dangerous" when the capital experienced heavy fog in October. The difference triggered massive criticism of the bureau with more residents trusting the US system.
The center, established in 1974, has received more than 5,400 people since it began allowing group tours from schools or institutes in 2007. Individuals can now apply for a 40-minute visit to the center every Tuesday afternoon.
"We chose this time to open the center to individual visitors because more people now care about air quality and its monitoring since the October fog scare," said Wang. The recent public criticism is also part of the reason, another media department employee indicated to the Global Times.