Dec 06, 2011 06:35 PM

Beijing Officials Mum on Air Quality Readings


(Beijing)—In the face of growing citizen concerns over Beijing's air quality, government officials are refusing to release any additional data collected from their air quality monitors.

On December 4 and 5, thick smog descended on the nation's capital, prompting Beijing officials to cancel hundreds of flights and shut down a few major highways.

Similar incidents during October and November inspired one man named Yu Ping to send a formal request to Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau on November 19, asking for monitoring data on atmospheric particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter. Particles at this size can have a significant impact on air quality and visibility, and can cause significant harm after traveling deep into the respiratory tract into the lungs. 

In a written reply on December 2, the bureau refused to provide the information Yu requested, saying that PM 2.5 is not yet on the list of particulates requiring public disclosure, as per China's Ambient Air Quality Standard. Data on that class of particles is also unreliable for assessing air quality, the bureau said. 

On the afternoon of December 4, the U.S. embassy in China tweeted that Beijing's air quality index (AQI) was 533, which it labeled "beyond index." The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency generates AQI measurements by converting its PM 2.5 readings.

In contrast, Beijing's environmental protection bureau at 3:57 p.m. December 4 forecasted that the capital's AQI would be in the "slight pollution" range of 150 and 170 at 8:00 p.m. that day, as well as 8:00 a.m. the next day. 

"As there is a big controversy about the difference between official and public data on Beijing's air pollution, I've sent my requirement in writing by express delivery to the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau and have asked them to disclose PM 2.5 readings between October 1 and November 18," said Yu Ping in a November 19 microblog post, with an accompanying picture of the express delivery package containing the request, Southern Metropolis Daily reported. 

Two days later, the Environmental Protection Bureau called Yu, saying that the data would not be revealed because PM 2.5 readings are only meant for scientific research.

Government transparency laws enacted in March 2008 entitle citizens to search for and request public information from government bodies. According to the regulations, public authorities must reply on-site when receiving requests, or otherwise issue replies within 15 days. 

"[Environmental Protection Bureau] Deputy Director Du Shaozhong previously said that he is willing to compare Beijing's PM 2.5 readings to that of the U.S. embassy's," Yu said to Southern Metropolis Daily, "If foreigners can see these statistics, why not Chinese?"

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