China official says air pollution rules too lax

BEIJING Fri Nov 11, 2011 8:21am EST

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BEIJING (Reuters) - China's air pollution standards are too lax, a senior environment official said in comments published on Friday, the highest level comment following complaints that authorities are understating the extent of smog that often envelops Beijing.

The level of air pollution in the capital varies, depending on winds. But in recent weeks, a cocktail of smokestack emissions, vehicle exhaust, dust and aerosols have blanketed the city in a pungent, beige shroud for days on end, prompting residents to denounce official readings of "slight" pollution as a gross undercount.

A Vice Minister of Environmental Protection, Zhang Lijun, appeared to agree in comments published by the official People's Daily.

"Currently, the air quality in our cities is quite poor, and there's some gap with the air quality guidelines laid down by the World Health Organization," Zhang told a meeting in Beijing on Thursday.

"China's current air quality standards are too lax, and they evaluate too few elements, so the standards reached in cities are still low. The air quality situation in our country remains extremely grim."

Many residents who have taken to the Internet to complain have pointed out that the U.S. embassy offers its own readings that appear much grimmer than those of the city government's.

A point of contention is the government's unwillingness to disclose measures for tiny floating particles -- 2.5 micrometers in diameter or less -- that doctors warn can more easily settle in the lungs and cause respiratory problems and other illnesses.

China's discloses readings only of pollutant particles that are 10 micrometers in diameter or larger.

This week, a pollution monitoring engineer told the China Daily that Beijing already has monitoring equipment for such smaller pollutants, but was not releasing the results for now.

"We have also established monitoring stations that analyze the city's pollutant intensity for PM 2.5 and PM 1," the engineer, Wei Qiang, said. "The data will be released in the future, when the city adopts a PM 2.5 standard."

(Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Ken Wills)

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