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Outdated Smog Index To Be Overhauled

Shi Jiangtao in Beijing – SCMP – Updated on Mar 12, 2009

Mainland air-pollution standards are flawed, and major changes will be made to cover more pollutants and better monitor smog, a senior environment official has said.

Zhang Lijun, vice-minister of environmental protection, said a new air-pollution index would include fine particles and ground-level ozone, a gas produced in sunlight by mixed emissions from industry, vehicle exhaust and fuel vapours.

His announcement, at a briefing yesterday on the sidelines of the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress, came just months after the Beijing Olympics, during which China’s air-pollution measurement system was widely questioned.

The mainland’s air-pollution standards measure only three main air pollutants: sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and PM 10 – particulate matter with a median diameter of less than 10 microns.

“The current standards were adopted 10 years ago,” Mr Zhang said. “The absence of smog-related pollutants of fine particles and [ground-level] ozone has resulted in discrepancies between government statistics and public feelings.

“We often receive phone calls from the public, questioning our air-pollution index and wondering why we publish good air-quality figures even on smoggy days.”

Experts have long argued that the outdated standards, which have failed to reflect the stark reality of persistent smog affecting most cities in the country, should be partly blamed for the failure to tackle pollution and cut public health risks.

They linked soaring mortality rates due to widespread air pollution in the nation’s cities to the government’s ignorance of fine particulate matter and ground-level ozone, both believed to be linked to cancer, respiratory disease and other fatal illnesses.

Mr Zhang said air pollution was “very severe” across the country, with the number of smoggy days in the Pearl River Delta, the Yangtze River Delta, Beijing and Tianjin increasing rapidly.

“Some cities in the Pearl River Delta have recorded more than half a year’s worth of smoggy days.”

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