Perched atop the U.S. Embassy in Beijing is a device about the size of a microwave oven that spits out hourly rebukes to the Chinese government.The Chinese government has made strides in tackling air pollution, and, as the Guardian noted earlier this month, it is making a special effort to get at the worst pollutants.
It is a machine that monitors fine particulate matter, one of the most dangerous components of air pollution, and instantly posts the results to Twitter and a dedicated iPhone application, where it is frequently picked up by Chinese bloggers.
One day this month, the reading was so high compared with the standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that it was listed as "beyond index." In other words, it had soared right off the chart.
"You couldn't get such a high level in the United States unless you were downwind from a forest fire," said Dane Westerdahl, an air quality expert from Cornell University.
But China's own assessment that day, Oct. 9, was that Beijing's air was merely "slightly polluted."
Tiny particulate matter known as PM2.5 – which is linked to lung disease, heart attacks and atmospheric haze – will be added to a list of air quality indicators in an upcoming revision of national standards, the Chinese media reported on Monday.
These ultra-fine particles account for more than half the weight of industrial dust in the air of northern China, according to the Jinhua Daily. Until now, their absence from the national pollution index created an absurd discrepancy between official claims of "blue sky" conditions and the reality of air so putrid and murky it could be tasted.
"At present, the public's feelings about air quality are different from the monitoring data," environment vice-minister Zhou Jian acknowledged during a speech at a recent forum. "To prevent haze, we will improve the air quality standards as soon as possible and include PM2.5."The weather in parts of China today is not conducive to good air, state-run Xinhua has reported.