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March 9th, 2012:

Delta leads nation on dirty-air data

Regional partners, including Hong Kong, team up to unveil real-time readings on toxic fine particles
Shi Jiangtao in Beijing and Cheung Chi-fai
Mar 09, 2012

The Pearl River Delta is a step ahead in releasing up-to-the-hour information on microscopic pollutants across the region, including Hong Kong, as it seeks to clear the air on a pressing environmental threat.

Hong Kong and Guangdong province yesterday published on government websites key particle readings from the country’s largest network for air-quality detection, consisting of 31 stations.

Xiamen in Fujian province also released yesterday’s air-quality readings from its three monitoring stations.

The fine particles, known as PM 2.5, are widely seen as more hazardous to health compared to larger particles because of their ability to penetrate blood vessels directly. PM2.5 refers to particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter.

An environmental expert says the release of data was a symbolic and significant move clearly meant to answer concerns about pollution and reverse widespread distrust of official air readings. It also sets an example for the rest of the country, says Professor Chen Zunrong, from Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou.

“It is a major step forward in promoting transparency of government information that will help the public understand the truth about air pollution,” Chen said.

Hourly and 24-hour average readings of the fine particles at 17 stations in the delta region and 14 stations in Hong Kong can now be viewed on the websites of the Guangdong Environment Protection Bureau and Hong Kong’s Environmental Protection Department. Hong Kong already publishes online the levels of other pollutants, such as ozone and nitrogen dioxide.

Neither website covers readings from across the border.

Chen said other regions, especially major cities, were expected to feel the heat and learn from the delta on how it was seeking to control air pollution.

Shanghai plans to publish data on fine particles from June, while Tianjin has yet to unveil a timetable.

Chen believed the public would have greater expectations for clear air, which could translate to heightened pressure on local authorities in tackling rampant pollution.

“Information transparency will certainly help the government curb pollution, like what we have seen in Hong Kong,” he said.

The launch came just days after the central government released revised national standards on air quality, covering the smog-inducing fine particles.

Fine particles had long been omitted from the country’s pollution parameters. But it was at the centre of a national outcry last year when the government’s secrecy over smog problems in major cities caused concern.

In January, Beijing became the first city on the mainland to publish the fine particles readings. However, the data, based on a single monitoring station, was widely seen as incomplete and ineffective in gauging the capital’s serious smog problems.

Mainland environmentalists hailed the latest move of publishing data as a landmark step in the delta’s synergy on pollution control and transparency. Green activists in Hong Kong welcomed it with caution, particularly over what they said were lax standards on pollution data.

Zhou Rong, a Greenpeace China campaigner, said residents of the delta region should be grateful that Hong Kong played a critical role in facilitating the data’s release.

Zhou said “the decision to release the pollution data could be largely attributed to the push from Hong Kong and environmental awareness in the region”.

Zhou noted that Guangdong had done a better job in researching and taking action against pollution than other regions over the years.

The province has been at the forefront of tackling air pollution through co-operation with Hong Kong. In 2002, both sides signed a pact to reduce emissions by up to 55 per cent below 1997 levels by 2010.

Helen Choy Shuk-yee, of the Clean Air Network, welcomed the disclosure but was concerned about lax standards on fine particles being introduced no earlier than 2014 in revised air quality objectives.

Choy said none of the readings at the 14 Hong Kong monitoring stations exceeded the proposed standard, at 75 micrograms on a 24-hour average. If standards were tightened to meet World Health Organisation guidelines at 25 micrograms, up to six stations, including all three roadside stations in Causeway Bay, Mong Kok and Central, would fail.

A spokeswoman for the Environmental Protection Department said the fine particle concentration yesterday was within the normal range. She said there was a 17 per cent drop in the fine particles level between 2005 and 2011.

Ministry of Health to research safeguards against PM2.5

March 09, 2012

3月5日,参加十一届全国人民代表大会第五次会议的全国政协委员、卫生部部长陈竺在被媒体截住接受采访时向记者介绍,3年来,财政投入医改的新增经费是11000多亿元人民币,‘十二五’期间,政府对医改的投入还会有更大的增加。中新社记者 泱波 摄

While talking to reporters at the 5th session of the 11th National People’s Congress, CPPCC member and Minister of Health Chen Zhu said that over the past three years the government has allocated more than CNY 1.1 trillion [app. USD 174.3 million] for ongoing healthcare reforms, and that they will continue to increase funding throughout the 12thFive-Year Plan. Photo by Yang Bo, journalist at China News Service.

China News Service newswire; March 09, Beijing (journalists Shi Yan and Tian Jun): Chinese Minister of Health Chen Zhu on March 09 revealed that the Ministry of Health is organizing a team to research effective safeguards against PM2.5.

Chen Zhu made the above remarks while speaking with China News Service reporters during an intermission at the 5th session of the 11th National People’s Congress on March 09.

PM2.5 are also called inhalable particles. They seriously compromise air quality and visibility. Listed in the agenda presented by State Council premier Wen Jiabao on March 05 is an item for PM2.5 testing, to be conducted this year in vital areas such as the Beijing-Tianjin-Shijiazhuang metro area, Yangtze River Delta and Pearl River Delta, as well as all other municipalities subordinate to the central government and all provincial capitals. By 2015 the project will be expanded to include all cities at or above the prefecture level.

Chen Zhu said that, unlike the routine readings done by the Ministry of Environmental Protection, the Ministry of Health will focus on the impact of PM2.5 on [public] health, and research the link between inhalable particles and respiratory and cardiovascular disease.

Chen also revealed that the Ministry of Health is mulling a partnership with other arms of the central government – namely MIIT – to introduce tobacco control regulations at the national level. China joined the FCTC in 2006. Significant progress has been in made in controlling tobacco use but the public is demanding that more be done in this area.

“We issued a ministerial directive, and despite criticism that an order from the minister was merely departmental policy and would not have the desired effect, we were still able to express where the government stood on this matter,” stressed Chen.

Minister of Industry and Information Technology Miao Wei said recently that MIIT is currently drawing up a plan for FCTC implementation and will clarify the rules regarding messages on cigarette packaging alerting users to the health risks of smoking.

During an interview with reporters on March 09, Chen Zhu said they would continue to adjust the tobacco tax: “We have been doing this all along. We made an adjustment last year, but it was for luxury cigarettes only. This didn’t really help control the number of smokers. An upward adjustment on mid-range and low-priced cigarettes will definitely happen soon,” he said.

As to whether or not the public would back the measure, Chen Zhu said he was very confident they would: “I think the general public will support it because adolescents are the most sensitive to tobacco prices, and tobacco is harming adolescents more than any other group. Raise prices just a little higher, and the youth are likely to opt out …  According to our calculations, after we raise the tobacco tax there will be a more substantial drop in the number of smokers.”

As to whether or not a tax hike would be detrimental to fiscal revenues, Chen Zhu responded in the negative: “This won’t have any impact on fiscal revenues. Based on the experience of Western countries, there might even be an increase in revenues for a period of time.”