The mainland government has formally adopted new pollution standards encompassing smog-related pollutants such as fine particles after a national outcry over last year's increasingly bad air in urban areas.
The new standards, which the Ministry of Environmental Protection revised late last year, were aimed at easing mounting public discontent over official pollution readings that showed positive air-quality figures, even on smoggy days, Xinhua said, citing a statement released after a State Council meeting yesterday.
The revised standards include the level of fine particles, known as PM2.5 (airborne particles smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter), which are a health risk because they penetrate the lungs, and ozone.
Premier Wen Jiabao, who chaired the meeting, also reaffirmed a timetable for monitoring smog- related pollutants. While cities in affluent, yet smog-hit, regions - such as the Pearl and Yangtze river deltas, and the area covering Beijing and Tianjin - must start monitoring PM2.5 this year, the data will be measured across the mainland and released by January 1, 2016.
As many as 17 mainland cities, including Shanghai, Nanjing, Hangzhou, Chengdu, Wuhan and Zhengzhou, have started monitoring the pollutants. Beijing, Wuxi and Guangzhou were among the first cities to make public part of the monitoring data, China News Service reported.
The statement also said urban air pollution troubles, especially persistent smog, remained a daunting challenge, due to rapid industrialisation, urbanisation and soaring discharge of pollutants. Tackling such pollution woes, it said, would require co-ordination and collaboration among local authorities in a region.
The government also rolled out measures to step up efforts to crack down on polluters in energy-intensive and heavy polluting industries, such as those in power generation, steel, petrochemicals and construction materials. It also vowed to tighten emission controls and promote clean energy sectors in key regions, but it did not give further details.
Analysts welcomed the new pollution standards and the State Council's renewed pledge to take on widespread smog problems, saying it was a step in the right direction amid public calls for the truth.
'It is a commendable step for the central government to acknowledge the urgency of cleaning up filthy air as well as the necessity for a joint regional effort,' said Zhou Rong, a campaigner with Greenpeace China.
But Zhou and other environmentalists said the monitoring timetable released yesterday failed to provide a direct answer to public calls for immediate access to official PM2.5 data, which had been at the centre of nationwide debate since October.
'We have yet to see a clean-up timetable or information about when air quality will meet the newly revised national standards,' Zhou added.
Mainland authorities have been under fierce attack for their reluctance to lift secrecy on pollution data. Apparently embarrassed by mounting claims that the government was playing politics with smog problems, Wen urged the environment ministry and local governments to act.
This many air pollution stations in Beijing will be monitoring PM2.5, an official said in January
- Six will monitor PM2.5 24 hours a day