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Pollution sensors to detect filthy vehicles

South China Morning Post  29 April 2011

Environment officials intend to track polluting taxis and cars using remote-sensing street-level technology.

The plan – which aims to cut ozone and nitrogen filth – is being drafted by the Environmental Protection Department. The technology has been around for years but officials are now taking a serious look at it as the nature of air pollution changes.

Since 2006, improvements have been achieved in the concentrations of respirable suspended particles and sulphur dioxide, thanks to the installation of sulphur scrubbers at major coal-fired power plants in the delta region, according to results from the 2010 regional air quality monitoring network, released yesterday.

But no notable improvements were recorded for nitrogen dioxide, mostly attributed to vehicle emissions, or for ozone, a secondary pollutant formed by a chemical reaction among air pollutants.

Since the monitoring network, with 13 stations in Guangdong and three in Hong Kong, came into operation five years ago, ozone in the air had risen 10 per cent. While sulphur dioxide and particulate levels had fallen 47 and 14 per cent, nitrogen dioxide went down by only 7 per cent.

“The ozone might be a problem even beyond the region. There is an increase of ozone outside the Pearl River Delta, too,” an official from the department said.

He said the key to suppressing ozone formation was to lower the emission of its contributing pollutants – nitrogen dioxide and volatile organic compounds. Towards this end, the mainland seeks to cut 10 per cent of nitrogen pollution in its 12th five-year plan for 2011 to 2015.

Locally, the official said, old franchised buses would be equipped with a pollution reduction device. A trial will begin later this year. For vehicles that run on petrol and liquified petroleum gas, the department was working out a plan to spot excessive emissions using the street-level sensor.

The official said there was a need for different standards for vehicles of different ages, and to gather enough data to set up benchmarks. “We will do it as quickly as possible so that the trades and drivers could be consulted,” he said.

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