Skip to main content

Report: More Chinese cities need to come clean on air pollution

By Madison Park and Wei Yuan Men Min, for CNN
October 25, 2012 -- Updated 0735 GMT (1535 HKT)
Vehicles make their way along a highway as fog covers most of Beijing on March. Thick fog and air pollution covered the city dropping to "hazardous" level in early March this year. Vehicles make their way along a highway as fog covers most of Beijing on March. Thick fog and air pollution covered the city dropping to "hazardous" level in early March this year.
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Environmental group examines air quality monitoring in 113 Chinese cities
  • Report by environmental nonprofit examined openness of Chinese air quality data
  • But 29 Chinese cities publish no data about air pollution

Hong Kong (CNN) -- Several Chinese cities have shown improvements with air quality information -- a politically-sensitive issue in China -- but improvements are still needed, according to a Beijing-based non-profit environmental group.

The report by the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs assessed air quality monitoring in 113 cities across China.

The cities with the most transparency in air quality data included Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Beijing, with the most improved cities being Guangzhou, Nanjing and Nanning.

Compared with the organization's last report based on 2010 data, Chinese cities have made significant progress, said Ma Jun, the founding director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs.

"Some Chinese cities have moved forward," he said. "Among all 113 cities, there is still a large number of them which are not making proper disclosure."

Reality check on Beijing's pollution
Pollution-sensing kites fly in China
China river turns bright red

In January, Beijing started releasing information about air pollutants in finer detail by looking at the presence of smaller pollutants, PM2.5, which are particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers. The previous standard was PM10. Smaller particles are believed to pose major health risks including risks of premature death, heart and lung diseases, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Analysts blame the thick haze that regularly shrouds the country's cities on rapid urbanization and industrialization. Beijing, for instance, burned some 27 million tons of coal in 2010, according to state-run media.

Despite efforts to limit the number cars with an auto-plate lottery, it's estimated that Beijing now has over 5 million cars, up from about 3.5 million in 2008. Pollution is more acute because of the sheer size of the city's population (17 million) and the rapid speed of its economic growth, experts say.

Some cities need time to get new air quality monitoring machines and to train new staff to operate them, Ma said. The worst level of disclosure of city air quality data was in western China, he added. Western China is less industrialized than its eastern counterpart.

But economic differences may not fully explain why some cities lag in releasing air quality data.

"We do notice that there are some other cities which are highly polluted, for example steel cities in the Shandong province. Their pollution level is very high, but they are not making much disclosure," he said.

Chinese authorities have been accused of not properly assessing the extent of the problem, prompting U.S. diplomatic missions across China to provide air pollution information to the American community so that "it can use to make better daily decisions regarding the safety of outdoor activities," according to U.S. Officials in June. The U.S. readings are widely viewed as a reliable alternative to the official index maintained by China's Environmental Protection Bureau.

Derived from a monitoring station in each of the embassy grounds, they typically paint a starker portrait of air quality than official reports, often falling within "unhealthy" bands, as defined by a rating system developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

But this independent monitoring has provoked an angry response in China. In June, a senior Chinese official demanded that foreign embassies stop issuing air pollution readings saying that embassies lacked legal authority to monitor the environment.

Beijing has now added 35 new monitoring locations and ranks as the top city in monitoring for smaller pollutants, according to the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs' report.

By August 2012, over 55 cities and 192 places published PM 2.5 data, the report added.

"There have been progress significantly in a very short period of time -- thanks to the push made by extensive public participation," Ma said.

Despite some progress, other Chinese cities have lagged behind. Twenty-nine cities, including Chongqing — China's biggest metropolis -- Hohhot, Zhengzhou, Shenyang, Jinan, Hefei, Changsha and Urumqi, did not publish any information.

Cities with highest air quality information transparency

1. Guangzhou

2. Shenzhen

3. Dongguan

4. Zhongshan

5. Beijing

Cities with lowest air quality information transparency

1. Jingchang

2. Qujing

3. Rizhao

4. Jining

5. Weifang

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 0551 GMT (1351 HKT)
David McKenzie meets some American teenagers who are spending a year in China to be fully immersed in the culture.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 0259 GMT (1059 HKT)
Chinese students show a handmade red ribbon one day ahead of the the World AIDS Day, at a school in Hanshan, east China's Anhui province on November 30, 2009.
The Chinese government pledges to protect a boy with HIV, who was shunned by his entire village in Sichuan, state media reported.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1144 GMT (1944 HKT)
A Chinese couple allegedly threw hot water on a flight attendant and threatened to blow up the plane.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 0503 GMT (1303 HKT)
China's 1.3 billion citizens may soon find it much harder to belt out their national anthem at will.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 0021 GMT (0821 HKT)
Los Angeles in the last century went through its own smog crisis. The city's mayor says LA's experience delivers valuable lessons for Beijing.
December 6, 2014 -- Updated 0542 GMT (1342 HKT)
At the height of his power, security chief Zhou Yongkang controlled China's police, spy agencies and courts. Now, he's under arrest.
December 5, 2014 -- Updated 0826 GMT (1626 HKT)
China says it will end organ transplants from executed prisoners but tradition means that donors are unlikely to make up the shortfall.
December 5, 2014 -- Updated 0648 GMT (1448 HKT)
China's skylines could look a lot more uniform in the years to come, if a statement by a top Beijing official is to believed.
December 3, 2014 -- Updated 0855 GMT (1655 HKT)
Despite a high-profile anti-corruption drive, China's position on an international corruption index has deteriorated in the past year.
November 26, 2014 -- Updated 1201 GMT (2001 HKT)
A daring cross-border raid by one of Russian President Vladimir Putin's associates has -- so far -- yet to sour Sino-Russian relations.
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 0051 GMT (0851 HKT)
A 24-hour bookstore in Taipei is a popular hangout for both hipsters and bookworms.
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 0153 GMT (0953 HKT)
China is building an island in the South China Sea that could accommodate an airstrip, according to IHS Jane's Defence Weekly.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1057 GMT (1857 HKT)
North Korean refugees and defectors face a daunting journey to reach asylum in South Korea, with gangs of smugglers the only option.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 2319 GMT (0719 HKT)
China and "probably one or two other" countries have the capacity to shut down the nation's power grid and other critical infrastructure.
ADVERTISEMENT