China to release stricter Beijing pollution measure

BEIJING Fri Jan 6, 2012 7:49am EST

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BEIJING (Reuters) - The Beijing city government will soon release the results of stricter air pollution standards, Chinese media reported on Friday, following a public outcry that authorities are understating the extent of smog that often shrouds the capital.

Many Beijing residents complain that official figures greatly underestimate the problem and say they only trust readings from the U.S. embassy, which has its own measurement based on U.S. standards. Those readings appear much grimmer than those of the city government's.

Under the stricter standards, the Beijing city government will monitor tiny floating particles -- 2.5 micrometers in diameter or less, known as PM 2.5 -- that doctors warn can more easily settle in the lungs and cause respiratory problems and other illnesses.

A long-standing point of contention for city residents was the government's unwillingness to disclose measures for PM 2.5.

The director of the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau, Liu Xianshu, was quoted in the Beijing Daily as saying that the agency would provide the readings of the PM 2.5 standard starting from the Chinese New Year, which falls on January 23 this year.

Environment Minister Zhou Shengxian said last month the government might not start releasing the results to the public until 2016.

China has disclosed readings only of pollutant particles that are 10 micrometers in diameter or larger.

The level of air pollution in the capital varies, depending on winds.

A cocktail of smokestack emissions, vehicle exhaust, dust and aerosols have at times blanketed the city in a pungent, beige shroud for days on end, and has even forced the cancellation of flights.

The East Asia climate and energy campaign manager for the environment group Greenpeace, Li Yan, said intense public debate appeared to have spurred the government to release the data sooner than planned, but it was just a start in protecting the public and cleaning up the skies.

"The government should take things a step further by coming up with a clearer timetable for disclosure of the pollution information, telling the public to be wary of dangerous levels of air pollution and reminding them of appropriate ways to avoid exposure," Li said in an emailed statement.

(Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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