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Air quality: a matter of location

(Global Times)

16:24, February 02, 2012

An official with the Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau (EPB) said Tuesday that the location of the US embassy's air quality monitoring station is too close to pollution sources, which is part of the reason why its AQI (air quality index) readings are always higher than Beijing's official air pollution data.

"The embassy's station is about 15 meters away from the road, but a monitoring station should be at least 50 meters away from pollution sources according to international common practice," said Yu Jianhua, chief of the EPB's atmosphere section, speaking on a Beijing Public Service Radio program.

Monitoring stations should not be too close to pollution sources such as car emissions, he said, and the location should be representative, "not in the most polluted place and not the least polluted place either." It requires a lab and a professional team to do equipment maintenance and to ensure the accuracy of the data, Yu noted.

The US embassy is fairly close to the Third Ring Road, although it is not clear if this is what Yu was referring to.

"We believe that promoting clean air and environmental transparency is in the interest of all our citizens. Our data has always been publicly available," said Richard Buangan, US embassy spokesman, in an e-mail reply to the Global Times. He did not comment on the EPB official's public statement about the station's location.

The difference between air quality data from the US embassy and the EPB has been a source of increasing debate among the Chinese public.

In October last year, the embassy rated the air in Beijing as "dangerous" during especially foggy days, while the EPB's pollution index showed it was only "slightly polluted." Criticism and doubts over the EPB's data and its credibility followed, with the public urging the government to release PM2.5 data.

The center started releasing hourly updates of PM2.5 data (particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns) from a Haidian district station on its website,, from January 21. Currently, only this station at Chegongzhuang Xilu releases PM2.5 data, but the bureau plans to install at least 30 stations in Beijing to provide PM2.5 data in the future, Yu said.

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