Beijing can breathe more deeply as air quality improves in 2014, says government

A week after capital was hit by the worst smog in months, official report reveals a 11 per cent fall in levels of hazardous air particles over the past six months compared with last year

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 July, 2014, 2:22pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 July, 2014, 12:56pm

Only last week Beijing was choked with the worst smog in months, yet the air quality in the capital has actually improved in the first six months of the year, municipal environment authorities say.

The average concentration of fine particulates smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter – tiny particles in the air that are particularly hazardous to health – was recorded by the government at 91.6 micrograms per cubic metre in the first half of this year – down more than 11 per cent on levels during the same period last year, Beijing News reported.

News of the improved air quality comes only a month after the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Environmental Protection revealed that public complaints about Beijing’s smog had more than doubled to 12,599 in the first five months of the year, compared with the same period last year.

Beijing has been routinely shrouded in hazardous smog for years, but Premier Li Keqiang – keen to calm the growing public discontent – said in March that the capital was on the front line of a “war against pollution”.

Public complaints about Beijing’s smog more than doubled to 12,599 in the first five months of the year, compared with the period last year

Authorities have been trying to highlight the measures being taken to reduce the pollution, but many residents are still to be convinced that they are having much effect.

The government said PM2.5 pollution was the worst air pollutant in the city, but levels had fluctuated significantly during the six months because of the change of seasons.

During the first three months, when winter heating led to an increase in coal burning, high levels of pollution caused several periods of heavy smog – the longest lasting more than a week.

However, unusually heavy rainfall in the spring dampened down and washed away much of the pollution.

The average PM2.5 levels in May and June fell to the lowest on record at about 60 micrograms per cubic metre.

Other forms of air pollutants, such as sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, also fell.

Authorities said that the massive efforts carried out by Beijing and surrounding areas to reduce levels of air pollutants had also contributed to the decline.

More than 170,000 vehicles using outdated fuel technology have been taken of the roads and scrapped, while most industrial boilers have begin to shift their source of fuel from coal to natural gas.

Authorities have also ordered more than 300 polluting factories to move away from the city, while more 20,000 hectares of new forests have been planted in and around the capital.

Beijing’s PM2.5 pollution level was also found to be lower than the levels in all 13 neighbouring cities, including Tianjin and Shijiazhuang.

The latest government report also found that the surrounding cities contributed to between 28 per cent and 36 per cent of the fine-particle pollution that has been affecting Beijing.