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December 14th, 2011:

ID card checks not thorough

South China Morning Post


SCMP Dec 14, 2011

ID card checks not thorough

Jeremy Newton’s letter about somebody having used his vote during the district council elections (“Someone else voted in my place”, December 9) just confirms my own observations over many years that many officials charged with checking a person’s identity fall down on the job.

This applies equally in government offices or those of lawyers, clinics or banks.

The frontline staff are beholden only to the number on the identity card and nothing else. So long as they get that ID number written down, they feel they have no responsibility to actually look at the photograph on a card and compare it with the person presenting the card as well as double-checking their name.

Herein lies the problem because, with an eight- or nine-digit card number, it is fairly common for people to make  mistakes with the recording of numbers.

If they combined this task with asking the person to state his or her name clearly, and also comparing the photographs, there would be far fewer identification mistakes. Failing to check the photograph in fact defeats the whole object of having an identity card, but tell that to the office managers and all you get is a blank stare.

The only times I have actually witnessed officers comparing the photographs on ID cards are at Immigration Department entry and departure points.

P. A. Crush, Sha Tin

How to crack down on vote-rigging

The fiasco of the district council elections continues to grow as further cases of alleged vote- rigging appear with phoney  voters registered at demolished buildings being bussed to voting centres, no doubt in return for free rice or other rewards.

It appears the investigations are just scratching the surface. The milk is tainted and the government should reject all election results and start afresh.

There is a solution. When Hong Kong residents arrive at or depart from immigration, they insert their smart identity cards into a reader unit, the gate opens and then a thumb print opens the second gate.

The same system could be adapted for use at central voting centres.

Any non-registered voter would be spotted immediately by the computer/ID cross reference and a voting slip issued if the registered ID card passes muster. A closed-circuit television with on-screen timer can identify the voter using the ID card for cross reference. Hong Kong has the taxpayers’ abundant money to do this and ensure a fair vote takes place.

At the very minimum, the voter’s ID card should be scanned and the hand scanners used by the Immigration Department employed before anyone gets a voter slip.

All first-world countries have legislation on the publishing of political party funding donations so that the public can see who and from where the puppeteers are controlling our political parties’ policies. Hong Kong should have similar laws.

James Middleton, Pat Heung

LCQ9: Emission reduction measures of franchised buses

Following is a question by the Hon Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung and a written reply by the Secretary for the Environment, Mr Edward Yau, in the Legislative Council today (December 14):


In his 2010-2011 Policy Address, the Chief Executive proposed to retrofit the Euro II and Euro III buses of franchised bus companies with catalytic reduction devices to meet Euro IV nitrogen oxide emission standards, and recommended the Government to fund the full cost of procuring six hybrid buses for use by franchised bus companies along the busy corridors in Hong Kong to test their operational efficiency. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether it knows the respective numbers of Euro II and Euro III buses in the existing vehicle fleets of franchised bus companies in Hong Kong, and the number of buses already retrofitted with catalytic reduction devices;

(b) whether it has assessed the costs of retrofitting all the Euro II and Euro III buses currently in use with catalytic reduction devices; if it has, of the details, and the time required to complete retrofitting all such buses; if not, the reasons for that; and

(c) whether it knows the latest progress of the tests on hybrid buses; whether it has assessed when the tests will be completed; if it has, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



Nitrogen oxides (NOx) emitted by franchised buses are one of the main reasons causing the exceedance of the Air Pollution Index at roadside. At present, over 60% of franchised buses are Euro II and Euro III vehicles which will only be completely replaced by 2019 and 2026 respectively. Since they are still in operation on the roads, if their emissions could be reduced as soon as possible, it would help improve the roadside air quality.

In some places in Europe, such as London and Belgium, they have retrofitted some of their buses with selective catalytic reduction (SCR) devices which reduce NOxemissions by about 60%. However, most public buses in these European cities are single-deckers whilst the majority of the franchised buses in Hong Kong are double-deckers. Besides, the high operation frequency and hilly terrains in Hong Kong all cause a relative increase in the engine load of local buses. Air conditioning is also required during hot summer time. Therefore, we have to conduct a trial to retrofit Euro II and Euro III buses with SCR devices to assess the technical feasibility and its effectiveness in emission reduction. If the Euro II and Euro III buses which were already equipped with diesel particulate filters (DPF) are retrofitted with SCR devices, their emission performance could be upgraded to Euro IV or Euro V level.

Our response to the Hon Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung’s questions is as follows:

(a) and (b) As at late September 2011, the franchised bus companies owned a total of 3 906 Euro II or Euro III buses. The respective number of these buses owned by the franchised bus companies is tabulated at the Annex.

We have retrofitted three buses (comprising two Euro II and one Euro III buses) with SCR devices for trial in September 2011. We are now retrofitting the other three buses (also comprising two Euro II and one Euro III buses) for trial, and we expect the retrofit to be completed in February 2012. We shall review the initial results after the first six months of the trial to ascertain as soon as possible the feasibility of retrofitting Euro II and Euro III buses with SCR devices on a large-scale and their effectiveness in reducing air pollutants. Subject to satisfactory trial results, the Government will fully subsidise the bus companies to retrofit Euro II and Euro III buses with SCR devices.

These six buses for trial involve three major bus models, representing about 1 800 Euro II and 450 Euro III buses. We have also started to look into the feasibility of retrofitting the other bus models with SCR devices with a view to launching a trial for these buses as soon as possible.

Given that some Euro II buses will retire in the next few years, we estimate that at the most about 3 700 Euro II and Euro III franchised buses would be retrofitted with SCR devices. Based on preliminary information provided by suppliers, the cost of large-scale retrofit of Euro II and Euro III franchised buses with SCR devices is estimated to be about $150,000 per bus. If all 3 700 buses were to be retrofitted with SCR devices, the total retrofit cost would be about $555 million.

The time required for retrofitting all suitable buses with SCR devices depends on the number of such buses and the actual timetable for retrofit to be drawn up by the bus companies. Nevertheless, we aim to roll out the large-scale retrofit as soon as possible once the success of the trial is confirmed.

(c) As for the hybrid bus trial, the franchised bus companies are procuring the buses. Allowing the time required for production and delivery, we expect that the hybrid bus trial in Hong Kong could commence in 2013 for a period of two years.

Ends/Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Issued at HKT 12:17

Violators beware

China’s burgeoning green laws pose challenges for international firms – and those who don’t stay ahead risk reputation and money. Justin Gerdes hears the message loud and clear at a chinadialogue seminar.


“Penalties can be particularly onerous for foreign entities because, in many instances, they tend to be targeted defendants. The assumption is that they have more money, deeper pockets, than Chinese companies.”

For China’s environmental protest movement, the summer and autumn of 2011 were a busy few months. American firm Johnson Controls was forced to shut down a lead-acid battery plant in Shanghai after 25 local children were diagnosed with lead poisoning; a coalition of Chinese environmental groups accused Apple of ignoring illegal pollution in its supply chain; two oil spills in Bohai Bay, kept secret for 30 days, left US conglomerate ConocoPhillips facing lawsuits; and Greenpeace released a report documenting serious pollution in China’s textile industry.

Meanwhile, a chemical plant in the port city of Dalian was ordered to close after 12,000 people took to the streets to voice safety concerns; and, in September, a crowd of 500 people stormed a Jinko Solar compound in Haining, after it was discovered toxic waste from the facility had killed fish in a nearby river.

This litany of incidents illustrates the growing pressure the public and NGOs are able to wield in the fight against pollution in China, Alex Wang, attorney and visiting assistant professor at UC Berkeley Boalt School of Law, argued at a recentchinadialogue law seminar in San Francisco. “There’s no doubt that there seems to be an increased pressure and intensity,” he said. Armed with an ever-expanding body of environmental law, these players are pushing for change in the corporate world, and – the seminar’s US audience heard – international firms operating in China must pay attention.

According to Charles McElwee, a formerly Shanghai-based lawyer and author of Environmental Law in China: Managing Risk and Ensuring Compliance, the swell on the street is increasingly likely to be reflected in the courtroom. Despite serious obstacles, McElwee believes there is growing citizen recognition of China’s expanding body of environmental and tort law. “As the number of lawyers in China increases, as the public becomes more aware of tort claims, as people start to make the connection between health complaints and pollution in their locality,” we should expect to see more Chinese seek redress for environmental harm in the courts, he said at the same seminar, which was co-organised with Asia Society Northern California.

That China has environmental laws on the books is news to some outside the country, too. “When I mentioned to someone when I first moved to China that I was an American lawyer focusing on Chinese environmental law, they said, ‘Well, that must be easy because China doesn’t have any environmental law,’” McElwee said. “Fortunately, with that attitude, they turned into one of my best clients because, in fact, China has a full suite of environmental laws. If you don’t pay attention to them, you will be in trouble.”

In some respects, McElwee said, Chinese environmental law resembles the American command-and-control model: China has a clean water act (Law on the Prevention and Control of Water Pollution, 1984), a clean air act (Law on the Prevention and Control of Atmospheric Pollution, 1987), and a solid waste act (Law on the Prevention and Control of Environmental Pollution by Solid Waste, 1995).

But it has added to this model with a series of statutes advancing sustainable development. The Clean Production Law(June 2002), for instance, promotes resource efficiency and less use of toxic substances; the Circular Economy Law(August 2008) encourages closed-loop manufacturing, where the waste product of one company becomes raw material for another.

Foreign firms engaging in building work will be familiar with the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), which is required for new construction. That process specifies the pollution-control equipment to be installed, and sets industry-specific discharge limits for air, water, noise, solid waste and hazardous waste pollutants.

“There are penalties and enforcement provisions if you violate the law,” McElwee explained. “These can be particularly onerous for foreign entities, because, in many instances they tend to be targeted defendants. The assumption is that they have more money, deeper pockets, than Chinese companies.”

McElwee cautioned manufacturers to know when to follow local law. Local laws can be more stringent than national laws. But, he stressed, “Local laws can never be less stringent – no matter what the local environmental protection bureau may tell you. If they say, ‘We have a special dispensation,’ don’t believe them. They don’t. Or, if they do, it’s an illegal one, and eventually that loophole will be closed.”

As well as civil and legal pressure, there are also efforts to use the world of finance to influence the behavior of domestic and foreign firms seeking to expand in China. Kristen Durham, global gateway director at financial services firm SVB Financial Group, noted during the chinadialogue panel discussion that the importance of China’s now four-year-old Green Credit Policy, which aims to restrict lending to projects that have a negative impact on the environment. Though oftencharacterised as “compulsory in design and voluntary in implementation”, she said experts do not expect this to be the case for long.

SVB’s development partner in China, Shanghai Pudong Development Bank, withdrew about US$26 billion (165 billionyuan) of credit from its most energy inefficient and polluting clients in 2009, Durham said, adding: “The scale in which the financial services sector can be an active participant in promoting environmental quality in China is not a small one.

“The banks are becoming better stewards. Industrial Bank – by a lot of people’s estimation – is one of the leading banks in this area.”

Despite all the positive noises, enforcement of China’s expanding green laws remains a major challenge. Environmental Impact Assessments, for instance, are often obtained after a project has started construction or is even completed.

When companies do get taken to court, however, there is, increasingly “real potential for liability concerns” under China’s tort law, McElwee explained. This body of law, an updated version of which took effect in July 2010, empowers individuals to seek damages in personal injury and product liability cases.

McElwee recounted the story of a Korean paint-brush manufacturer which used benzene in its production process. The company was sued by a resident living 500 metres from its factory, whose wife had died of lung cancer. The man received close to US$1 million despite the firm’s benzene emissions being below the discharge limit. “It didn’t even matter that they were complying with the applicable law; they were unable to prove that their benzene emissions had not caused her cancer,” he said.

Wang explained the background for such a verdict. “There’s been a bit written about the populist nature of courts [in China], that they’ll respond to popular pressure, or a perception that there is something wrong. Particularly if there are a lot of people involved, creating ‘instability’ in the area, then the courts are more subject to a response to that than you might expect courts in the US to be.”

The outcome in the benzene case, however, belies the hurdles facing plaintiffs in tort cases, which are expensive for most Chinese. Limited access to lawyers is a key problem. McElwee pointed out that China, with its population of 1.3 billion, has just 200,000 licensed lawyers. (California, with a population of 37 million, has 172,489 active members of the State Bar.) Few of these lawyers work in tort law, and just a handful of NGOs are able to take on tort claims pro-bono.

But the voices of optimism remain. Speaking at the Society of Environmental Journalists annual conference in Florida earlier this year, Christine Boyle, a researcher at the Environmental Finance Center, University of North Carolina, and formerly a Fulbright Fellow at the Chinese Academy of Science, pointed to the work of activist Ma Jun, whose NGO theInstitute of Public and Environmental Affairs publishes pollution data made available by the public disclosure law in anonline map updated weekly.

“I see that this public pressure for cleaner water and air – the government is responding. But they’re happier to have it be done at the local level. Slowly but surely, it’s happening,” she said.

Justin Gerdes is a freelance journalist based in California.

For an in-depth look at the progress of China’s environmental laws to date, download chinadialogue’s special series “Green Law in China”.

Homepage image by Qiu bo / Greenpeace shows an NGO worker taking a test sample from a factory’s wastewater pipe.

Living with China’s ‘crazy bad’ smog

CNN Asia Business Analyst, Ramy Inocencio

Hong Kong (CNN) – I roll my eyes when people here in Hong Kong complain this
city’s air quality is bad. My reply? Try living in Beijing.

This past week we saw some of the worst smog to smother China’s capital
this year. More than 360 flights were cancelled in and out of Beijing on
Tuesday alone. Thousands of passengers around the country were stranded. And
both infants and the elderly across the region were rushed to hospitals for
breathing problems – their mouths and noses covered by oxygen masks.

It seems things haven’t changed.  From 2000 to 2006 I lived in China; four
of those years were in Beijing. And I remember very similar scenes. Looking
back on my time then – and reporting on China’s air pollution problems
today – it’s as if history continues to repeat itself.

To be sure, I have fond memories of Beijing – of my friends, of great food
and of helpful people. Of its air quality, I do not.

Memory 1: A dusting of grey, a shooting of black and the taste of metal

By the look of my hair, I had aged a few decades by the time I came back
home one particularly polluted evening in Beijing. I hadn’t realized that
fact until my then-roommate asked what had happened. Some of the city’s
haze had found a final resting spot on my do, giving me a salt-and

That’s a fairly innocuous scene to describe but forgive this next honest
one: I have never seen blacker stuff come out of my nose than when I lived
in Beijing. It’s not often you learn to appreciate the body’s air
filtration system then after seeing what said system filters out. Enough

U.S. ambassador on China air pollution

And have you ever tasted the air and been able to describe it as dusty and
metallic? At its worst, that’s what Beijing’s air tasted like. And deep
down you just knew that you a) shouldn’t be able to taste air and b) that
it shouldn’t be metallic. That’s just not right.

Memory 2: When I lived in Beijing I thought no air could be worse than that
city’s air

And I’m even more convinced of it today.

Beijing’s municipal health bureau says lung cancer rates have risen 60%
over the past ten years.  The disease is now the number one killer for the
capital’s residents. To be sure, China’s cultural affinity with cigarettes
is in large part to blame.  But China’s air quality really does add insult
to injury.

And as the country’s air quality becomes a topic of conversation so does
the U.S. embassy’s air monitoring station in Beijing. You might remember it
jumped to online fame last year for its air quality reading of “crazy
bad”. It measures particulates as small as 2.5 microns across. (For
comparison, a strand of hair can be as ‘wide’ as 100 microns across.)

The U.S. embassy spokesperson, Richard Buangan, told me that the station
maxed out on its measuring ability this past Sunday. The limit is 500. The
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency limit is 35. Crazy bad, indeed. Mr.
Buangan said it passed 500 on Sunday at 5:22pm Beijing time. From then
through early Wednesday, its reading reported these two words: “very

China air pollution: ‘Slightly polluted’ or ‘hazardous’?

I challenge you to find someplace else that has consistently worse air

Memory 3: People just seemed to bear the smog and dust…and move on

But now, China’s citizens are losing their patience and they have a public
platform to voice their anger.  With the rise of Sina Weibo in China – the
country’s version of Twitter – so have risen the voices of discontent.

Our team in Beijing spotlighted a few of these for this article. They show
that fallout from this latest smog event doesn’t just involve particulate
matter – it includes suspicion, caution and frustration.

JOSEPH-SHEN:In 2006, Beijing shut down two monitoring sites which showed
the worst air pollution. In 2008, monitoring stations were moved outside of
the 6th ring road. That’s why the data showed that Beijing’s air quality
got improved.

小萝莉不是solinda:Beijing has severe air pollution, and one will be
poisoned as long as he breathes. Don’t forget to wear mask if you go out.

yico黄:Beijing’s air quality is crazy bad. The air smelled strange
yesterday morning, and I had the symptoms similar to catching a cold last
night, such as sneezing. My colleagues told me that they coughed a lot.
However, relevant departments still said that the air quality was good. As a
pregnant woman, I am extremely angry.

On top of all this, of 1000 people polled by Sina Weibo, 52% said they
wanted to leave Beijing because of the latest smog.

For those who can’t, they are the people who have pushed sales of masks and
air filters into the proverbial stratosphere.

The China Daily, the country’s English language paper, reported Wednesday
that air cleaning products were the most searched objects on – a
site similar to in the United States.  Another online vendor,, says it saw a 50% jump in sales of air cleaning products between
October and November.

Ah Beijing. You make me thankful for that which I have: cleaner air.
Relative to you, we all can definitely breathe a (cleaner) sigh of relief.

CNN’s Helena Hong contributed to this article from Beijing.

Hong Kong’s pollution shame

In a World Health Organization survey, Hong Kong is embarrassingly ranked among the worst in a list of 500 cities in terms of levels of fine particles in the air.

If you’re in Central’s roads on a busy weekday, or perhaps any day, you are exposed to the city’s greatest concentration of large particles. Only Dakar (Senegal), Zabrze (Poland), Kuwait City (Kuwait), Mexicali (Mexico), Antananarivo (Madagascar) and Mongolia’s Ulan Bator – reportedly the second most polluted city in the world – of the 565 cities surveyed are worse than Hong Kong’s pollution levels.

Does this mean the allure of Central as a premium location for business (ifc and Hongkong Land properties) and leisure (Lan Kwai Fong, luxury hotels) has deteriorated? Maybe not. Such news isn’t recent and, for a while, people are already aware of high pollution levels in the city. So if people avoid Central, perhaps leaving Hong Kong is not a far off decision as neighboring districts don’t fare much better either.

Since Hong Kong’s pollution level is worse than many other cities, I’d agree with Friends of Earth’s statement that such status is “disappointing and shameful”. Hong Kong can brag about being a top-notch financial hub or a model of efficiency, but its people are breathing third-world class air. According to a document obtained by FOE from Environmental Protection Department, the pollution level at the intersection of Chater Road and Des Voeux Road Central is 20 times higher than the top-ranked Whitehorse, Canada.

Health specialists say fine particles can penetrate deep into human respiratory system and may cause severe health risks.

Top urban air pollution contributors include motor transport, small-scale manufacturers and other industries, burning of biomass and coal for cooking and heating, as well as coal-fired power plants. What excacerbates the situation is that Hong Kong’s tall buildings, while providing a majestic backdrop for tourist views and source of pride for locals, they trap pollutants confined on narrow roads in what’s called “street canyon effect”. No wonder that if a typhoon comes to Hong Kong, it is also means opportunity to cleanse the city from unwanted elements in the air.

China’s pollution data shrouded in official fog thew world is getting smart about PM2.5!

BEIJING (AP) — Armed with a device that looks like an old transistor radio, some Beijing residents are recording pollution levels and posting them online. It’s an act that borders on subversion.

The government keeps secret all data on the fine particles that shroud China’s capital in a health-threatening smog most days. But as they grow more prosperous, Chinese are demanding the right to know what the government does not tell them: just how polluted their city is.

“If people know what their air is like, they are more likely to take action,” said Wang Qiuxia, a researcher at local environment group Green Beagle, who shows interested residents how to test pollution on a locally made monitoring machine.

Beijing is frequently cloaked in yellow haze. Buildings a couple of blocks away are barely visible. Still, Beijing’s official air quality index records the pollution as “light” — a reading at odds with what many people experience.

A reason for the discrepancy is that the official index does not include the fine particles Wang’s group is tracking, PM2.5. Sometimes seen as soot or smoke, PM2.5 is tiny particulate matter — less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter or approximately 1/30th the average width of a human hair — that can result from the burning of fuels in vehicles, power plants and agriculture.

Government agencies did not comment for this report. Experts say the government measures are reducing pollution. The Ministry of Environmental Protection has announced plans to factor PM2.5 into new air quality standards, beyond the coarser PM10 already measured, but not until 2016. One environmental official was quoted by state media as saying conditions were “not ripe” for the tougher standard as many places would fail.

“The government always has this worry that if they tell the truth, there will be social unrest. But the reality is the reality. Whether you tell the public or not, the danger is still out there,” said Feng Yongfeng, a journalist and founder of Green Beagle, whose mission is to raise awareness of environmental problems and help improve China’s environment.

What matters now, Feng said, is for people to conduct their own testing “and see the truth right now.” Green Beagle is recruiting people around the city to test the air in their homes, neighborhoods, offices and public spaces. It lends the sole monitoring device it possesses for up to a week.

Some residents even set it whirring in the supermarket. In return for lending the PM2.5 detector, Green Beagle gets the readings and posts them on their website.

While the pollution choking China is testament to the country’s explosive growth over the last 20 years, so is the current call for greater government transparency — and cleaner air. A new middle class that is increasingly well-traveled and wired to the Internet is turning its attention to quality of life and demanding official accountability.

“Firstly, people on low incomes care about food and clothing. Once food and clothing is no longer a problem, they start to care about the environment and health. Especially the air,” said Wang, 23, the Green Beagle activist.

Chinese authorities have squared off against this more assertive middle class on matters ranging from computer censorship to contaminated milk. In August, 12,000 residents in the wealthy northeastern port city of Dalian demonstrated against a chemical plant thought to be unsafe, and the government promised to relocate the plant.

While posting pollution data on the Internet is not specifically illegal, challenging the government can be considered subversive in China where the government zealously guards data it considers sensitive. In the past, people have been jailed for leaking government economic data ahead of the release date.

The battle over Beijing’s air seemed to take off this fall amid a run of smog-choked days. Pan Shiyi, a rich celebrity property developer who symbolizes middle-class aspirations, took to China’s version of Twitter to repost readings, including PM2.5, from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing that measures air quality from a monitor on its roof and publishes them online every hour.

The U.S. Embassy air quality readings are often bleaker than the official measure. From noon Sunday to noon Monday — during which hundreds of flights were canceled because of poor visibility at Beijing’s airport — embassy readings went from “hazardous” to “beyond index” as pollution exceeded the scale used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Beijing’s Environmental Protection Bureau said pollution was light.

Deborah Seligsohn, an adviser to the Washington-based World Resources Institute, said the government’s air quality information isn’t timely, since it’s an average of the previous 24 hours. But she said the controversy glosses over the strides that China has made in combating pollution and that the United States did not begin measuring PM2.5 until after 2000 and enforcing limits until 2006.

“The government is making major moves to control” the kind of pollution that was typical of London and Los Angeles in the 1950s and 1960s, said Seligsohn, who lives in Beijing. “It’s a long process.”

Programs are in place to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, which come from power plants among other sources and which turn to PM2.5 in the air, Seligsohn said, and there are plans to control emissions of volatile organic compounds, which come from vehicles, by 2015.

Some cities, like Shanghai, have announced they will start using new standards that include PM2.5 soon. The eastern city of Nanjing released PM2.5 statistics last month online, before drawing a rebuke from authorities and pulling the figures.

Overall, the government is losing the perception battle. Tan Liang, a 32-year-old engineer and one of Green Beagle’s volunteers, takes readings three times a day around his residential compound, newly built layers of apartment blocks on the outskirts of Beijing’s central business district that are home to many young couples.

“If we only have statistics from government agencies whose interests are involved to go on then there won’t be any true environmental data,” said Tan, who said he was motivated to take part because his wife is five months’ pregnant and they live close to an incinerator. “I believe that only by having the citizens involved can we have a true reflection of the real situation.”

Green Beagle is encouraging citizens to club together with neighbors and others in their community to buy their own 30,000 yuan ($5,000) PM2.5 monitoring device.

Many feel that is the government’s job.

“It is a matter for all people, not just my residential community,” said secretary Bai Xiao, 30, strolling in a park with her husband and 5-month-old baby one recent Saturday afternoon as the sun set behind a curtain of smog.

In any case, Wang fears that the government may make independent monitoring of PM2.5 illegal and take retribution. “We are now worried that in the future residents who test the air might be accused of committing an offense,” she said on a recent day after delicately placing the device back in its case and handing it to a newly trained citizen.

Associated Press researcher Zhao Liang contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

China’s pollution, a toxic issue

BBC News

Beijing without smog

The smog over Beijing has gone – for now

Thankfully the foul smog that has hung over Beijing for several days has cleared.

But what it has left behind is a sense, as clear as the sky was now blue, that the capital’s pollution is far more than just an environmental problem, it is becoming a political issue too.

Put frankly many people simply don’t believe official air quality figures.

So northern China’s recent awful air quality has left its local government authorities with some serious credibility problems.

Take a look at the photo above. I took it this afternoon from my window.

There, in all its glory, is Beijing’s Central Business District, the way it can be appreciated on a clear day.

Where have all the skyscrapers gone?Beijing in the smog

Now compare this shot, taken from the video I posted yesterday, of exactly the same view.

Yuk. The difference is shocking. You can see more on the video on my blog yesterday if you like.

So when Beijing’s environmental bureau was insisting that the pollution was ‘light’ yesterday you can see why many ordinary Beijingers simply didn’t believe it.

Here’s a taste of the comments people have been posting on China’s microblogs about the pollution. “Do they want to poison the country’s people to death?” asked one.

Another called Steedeets wrote: “After 8pm, fog has locked up Beijing’s east 5th ring rd. I can’t see further than 1 metre! All visions are just scary! No picture can capture this reality, because all pictures will simply be white! There is strong smoke flavour in the air, can hardly breathe! What kind of city is this? What kind of horror is this?”

Wang-Ganggang added: “The polluted air hurts the health of Beijing people, the statistics released by the Environment Protection Bureau… hurt the feelings of Beijing people.”

And Spatzi said: “It’s true that the more corrupt the place is the worse its environment.”

The official pollution advice suggested the levels on Monday and Tuesday were acceptable. But the alternative readings posted on the internet by the US embassy, from its own monitoring equipment, indicated it was “very unhealthy” and vulnerable groups, including children and the elderly, should not exercise outside.

The US readings reflect stricter pollution standards called PM 2.5 measuring particles less than 2.5 microns wide.

These tiny particles connected with car emissions, power stations and factories can have serious health effects as they travel deep into your lungs.

Beijing’s authorities take PM 2.5 readings but don’t release them. They only release larger PM 10.0 measurements.

They say the US readings, taken at just one site in the city are unrepresentative. But with the haze so visible in the air the city authorities didn’t sound credible.

Instead people in Beijing have been rushing out to buy masks and air purifiers for their homes. China’s biggest online marketplace,, is reported to have sold 20,000 face masks in Beijing recently.

Under the clear blue sky today the Global Times, a government-controlled paper from the Communist Party’s People’s Daily group warned that “a heated debate on whether air pollution has gone ‘out of control’ is now running wild”.

The paper pointed out that despite official insistence that the situation is not dire, “online opinion prefers to trust data released by the US Embassy in Beijing”.

And its editorial cautioned that the debate “is a matter of government credibility. The government can easily lose this argument”.

Many Chinese people are already sceptical about a lot of what they hear from the Communist Party and the bureaucrats who run China. From tainted baby milk to dangerous pesticides and additives in food there have been many recent health scares.

The safety of the food people eat and the air they breathe are everyday concerns for millions of people. So there is likely to be even deeper cynicism if the smog is thick and officials are insisting things are fine.

What is interesting is how this issue is a sign of the way China’s political landscape is shifting. As people are getting richer, their lifestyles are improving, and their quality of life is increasingly important to them.

So as China’s middle classes expand they are getting more assertive about the state of their environment, the quality of their healthcare and schools, and the transparency of their government.

In that – still limited – sense people are becoming more politically aware and active.

And a final observation is that the driving force beneath this is the internet and the access it is providing to information.

What is interesting in this instance is that it is the US Embassy providing that information.

Under President Barack Obama, the US has been looking for ways to use the internet to reach out directly to the hundreds of millions of Chinese people who use the internet, bypassing China’s government.

A US embassy cable from 2009 released by Wikileaks said that China’s foreign ministry had demanded the US stop publishing its embassy air-quality readings because they were “confusing” and “insulting” and could have “social consequences”. The embassy refused.

Article written by Damian Grammaticas Damian GrammaticasBeijing correspondent

Pollution from China alters weather in U.S. West – CBS News

CBS News  A U.N. conference on climate change ended Sunday without a major
deal to cut toxic emissions. No country emits more carbon dioxide than China
— a byproduct of its booming economy. And, as CBS News correspondent John
Blackstone reports, those Chinese emissions are having a big impact in the

Chinese officials insist the murky air over Beijing this month is just fog.
But measurements taken at the U.S. embassy there show dangerously high
levels of air pollution — so bad that traffic has been disrupted and
flights have been delayed or cancelled.

“It’s no longer just their problem; it’s our problem,” said Kim Prather of
the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Prather studies atmospheric chemistry. CBS News met her at a scientific
conference in San Francisco, where she was presenting research that shows
what’s in the air over China can affect the weather in America.

“The atmosphere has no walls,” she said. “So pollution on this side of the
world can make it the other side of the world in about five days.”

The Chinese pollution is carried by the jet stream across the Pacific. In
the atmosphere over this country, it can stop the clouds from producing rain
and snow.

In general, Prather said, the equation is more pollution equals less

The particles of air pollution from China collect moisture in the clouds.
But the particles are so small and numerous they don’t get heavy enough to
fall as rain or snow. So the water stays in the clouds.

But while flying over California collecting atmospheric samples, Prather
found something else from China that may make up for much of that lost rain.
It’s dust — from huge storms in China’s vast deserts.

Because of their chemical makeup and larger size, those dust particles do
collect enough moisture to make rain and snow.

“We found that wherever there was dust, there was ice,” Prather said. “And
then below us was snow.”

Understanding the factors that influence California’s rain and snow is
important because what falls in the mountains is the main water source for
most of the state’s 37 million people.

“We’re working with the weather guys to try and see this climate-weather
link with pollution,” Prather said. “It’s a complex problem.”

By unraveling those complexities, Prather’s research could improve the
accuracy of weather forecasting — explaining why some clouds just blow over
while others produce snow storms.

China’s toxic soup

China’s toxic soup
By Kent Ewing

HONG KONG – When residents of this city – now a special administrative region of China – complain about rising levels of air pollution that sometimes shroud its world-famous skyline in a murky pall of gray, they can cheer themselves with the thought: At least I don’t live in Beijing – the national capital.

This month, so far, has been particularly reassuring. Though Hong Kong’s pollution index has been high enough to warrant health warnings for those who suffer from respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, its residents have seen nothing like the vile muck that can be found in skies to the north.

Chinese officials were finally able to breathe a relatively clean sigh of relief last week when a fortuitous cold front swept through Beijing, lifting the embarrassing blanket of toxic smog that had
been choking the country’s capital for four consecutive days.

Air pollution levels were bad enough to cause the cancellation of nearly 700 flights in and out of the city and to send its population of 20 million on an unprecedented buying spree that turned surgical masks into a new fashion industry.

At one point, the rooftop pollution monitor at the US Embassy in Beijing jumped from a reading of “very unhealthy” to “beyond index”. When a city enters the fearsome realm of “beyond”, its citizens become unnerved and angry.

So that cold front, bone-chilling though it may be, brought welcome relief to the people and to the government – both municipal and central – that does its best to hide the country’s dire pollution problem, which is especially acute in Beijing, in the hope that its burgeoning middle class will be happy enough with China’s tremendous economic gains to accept the environmental and health consequences that go along with such breakneck growth.

But this cold front, too, will pass – and then, as anyone who has spent extended time in Beijing knows, the city’s skies will once again fill with a soupy poison that is clearly a health threat to the people who live and work there. In the end, what is your newfound wealth worth when the city in which you earned it is killing you?

Why is it that, even according to official data, the rate of lung cancer in Beijing has risen by nearly 60% since 2000 as the number of smokers has decreased? Shanghai is worse, by the way – with a 73% jump in lung cancer during that time – and the story is similar in other major Chinese cities.

If Chinese urbanites look long and hard enough, however, somewhere in that noxious cloud above and around them they may see at least a metaphorical silver lining: Pollution is now so bad in the capital that its people – distrustful of bureaucratic pledges to clean it up, not to mention the preposterously low official pollution readings that simply do not tally with the atmospheric gunk they see with their own eyes – are taking matters into their own hands. And they are starting to make a difference.

When government readings – based on an outdated monitoring system that counts only suspended particles between 2.5 and 10 micrometers in diameter – cannot be trusted, Beijingers turn to the US Embassy, whose up-to-date equipment counts particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5). These baneful jots and specks, experts agree, comprise most of the city’s air pollution and are far more likely to cause damage to the lungs that can lead to cancer and serious respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

Beyond the gross inaccuracies of Beijing’s monitoring system, city officials also choose to present a misleading average of pollution over the past 24 hours, whereas the more precise US Embassy readings are current and broadcast hourly via Twitter. These tweets have been a source of tension between embassy officials and Beijing bureaucrats, but many of the city’snetizens have come to rely on them as they plan their schedules for days, and even weeks, when the air they breathe may be harmful to their health.

While Twitter is blocked in mainland China, wily Beijingers use virtual private networks to circumvent the censors, and there is also a mobile phone app that accesses the embassy feed. And, once the bad news leaks out, it is quickly posted on SinaWeibo, the Chinese version of Twitter, for anyone with a computer or a smartphone to see and share.

Thus, on December 4, many residents were able to compare the embassy reading of 522 on the US Environmental Protection Agency’s 500-point scale (and so “beyond index”) with the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Environmental Protection’s assessment of air pollution as “light” that day. The bureau also described the city’s yellow haze, which reduced visibility to less than 500 meters, as innocuous fog, not deadly smog.

Such discrepancies hardly inspire confidence in local officials – who, by the way, do possess and employ state-of-the-art PM2.5 monitoring equipment. Beijing has 27 monitoring stations capable of measuring PM2.5 levels, but officials choose to keep their readings to themselves.

Perhaps they learned a lesson from the eastern city of Nanjing, which was quickly castigated last month by central authorities after publishing PM2.5 readings online.

To be fair, it should be noted that the central government’s Ministry of Environmental Protection has announced plans to set new pollution standards based on PM2.5 readings, but not until 2016, and some cities – for example, Shanghai, China’s financial capital – have pledged to adopt the new standards sooner than that.

Let’s also remember that the US only started measuring PM2.5 a decade ago and did not begin enforcing limits on small-particle emissions until 2006.

China’s 30-year economic boom has left many of its cities with pollution levels similar to those witnessed in Los Angeles and London 40 to 50 years ago. Beijing may not even be the worst case – but, because of its special status as the nation’s capital and cultural center, it is the most prominent and embarrassing.

Even the rich, powerful and well connected are fed up. One of the city’s biggest property developers, Pan Shiyi, used hisWeibo microblog, which has seven million followers, to launch a poll last month on whether Beijing should adopt stricter pollution standards. The results were predictable: 91% of the 42,118 followers who voted for wanting to see better standards put in place this year.

Since city officials have no plans to do this, however, some residents are literally taking matters into their own hands. Thanks to a local environmental group called Green Beagle – founded by journalist FengYongfeng – ordinary Beijingers are recording PM2.5 pollution levels using the group’s hand-held, locally made monitoring device.

Green Beagle volunteers measure pollution on the street, in offices, in supermarkets and in their own homes – and then post their readings on Green Beagle’s website.

At this point, Green Beagle possesses only one monitoring device, which it lends out for up to a week at a time to a growing contingent of volunteers. Despite the group’s meager resources, its postings, also woefully at odds with official readings, are adding to the pressure on authorities to act.

That was clear last week when state-run media – which generally used to live in the same state of denial as municipal officials in Beijing – joined the campaign for cleaner air.

Last Thursday, China Daily ran a story in which a Beijing-based expert on the environment made an unambiguous call for a tougher air-quality regime.

“Including PM2.5 readings is essential in figuring out the country’s haze problems,” said Ma Jun, director of the Public and Environmental Affairs Institute, “and it reflects the growing influence of public opinion regarding air quality.”

And this from an editorial in the usually see-no-evil Global Times: “Our pollution has become severe. It is time for us to shift our focus from development to protection.”

So far, however, local officials in Beijing are making no promises, even though – as the city was setting the stage to host the 2008 Summer Olympic Games – they took action that proved convincingly that pollution levels could be dramatically reduced. Blue skies prevailed while the games were on; once they ended, it was back to business as usual.

Embarrassingly, this has left the US Embassy as the pollution authority in China’s capital city.

Kent Ewing is a Hong Kong-based teacher and writer. He can be reached Follow him on Twitter: @KentEwing1

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