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Key Pollutant Levels Still High

Shi Jiangtao – Updated on Jul 11, 2008 – SCMP

The gap between China’s air quality standards and those recommended by the World Health Organisation has contributed to the never-ending dispute over Beijing’s much-touted improvements in cutting pollution, a mainland expert and official says.

Zhu Tong, an environmental scientist at Peking University, said the nation had tried its best to meet the pledge it made when it bid for the Games to reach the air quality levels of major cities in developed countries.

“Different countries vary in their air quality standards, and the WHO does not have a binding set of standards,” Professor Zhu said.

“China’s national standards are not as high as those in developed countries, which has led to disagreements, confusion or even misunderstandings.”

China’s standard national ambient air quality standards, which have been in effect since 1996, measure four airborne pollutants: carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter.

While Beijing has done relatively well in controlling the first three, so far it lags far behind in meeting the global standards for fine particulate matter and ground-level ozone concentrations – the two biggest areas of concern over health risks. Ozone is not even monitored by Beijing although the WHO recommended it be included when the Air Quality Guidelines were revised in 2005.

Beijing’s daily average ambient concentration of particulates measuring less than 10 microns (PM10) dropped from 0.156mg per cubic metre in the first six months last year to 0.145mg this year. While it met the national standard of 0.15mg, the WHO’s guideline is 0.05mg.

Noting that the readings for particulate matter were still high, Professor Zhu said it was mainly because some temporary measures, including a traffic ban, had still not been implemented.

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