By Allen Ai and Kenneth Tan
A Chinese expert has said that it is “unrealistic” for China to import western PM2.5 standards wholesale, and called for China to develop its own PM2.5 standards.
In an interview with the Chinese Economic Weekly, Kan Haidong, a professor of Fudan University and the only Chinese academic to have contributed to the World Health Organisation’s Global Burden of Disease research also said that the scientific jury is still out on the hourly readings published by the US Embassy in Beijing.
“While it was good that the US Embassy’s PM2.5 readings gave the Beijing environmental protection bureau the impetus to improve standards and to raise public awareness on PM2.5,” said Kan, “from an academic standpoint, the scientific jury is still out on those readings.”
“Firstly, there is a significant difference in the measurement methods adopted by the US Embassy and our environmental bureaus. Secondly, their location may not be all that representative of the entire city. Thirdly, there remains questions about the rationality of their Air Quality Index (AQI). Beijing is a city of 15,000 square kilometres with the main city area, townships, suburbs and so on, and so air quality is going to vary throughout. The US Embassy itself also agrees that the AQI for the entire city cannot be calculated from just one monitoring station.”
New standards set by the Ministry of Environmental Protection, to be adopted nationwide by 2016, have set the average yearly ceiling for PM2.5 at 35 micrograms per cubic meter, and the daily limit is at 75.
As to public concerns about whether those standards were too low, Kan said China had adopted the first of three proposals by the WHO on PM2.5 standards.
‘It’s not true that the higher the standards we adopt, the better,” he said. “If the standards we adopt are so high they’re unattainable, that would defeat the entire purpose of the exercise.”
“It is important that the standards be attainable for them to provide enough impetus for regional environmental protection bureaus to improve management,” added Kan. “We may be adopting the WHO’s first-stage proposal, but as we get better at managing pollution, we will move on to the second and third stage standards.”
Kan also suggested that the wholesale adoption of western PM 2.5 standards were unrealistic.
“Although China has adopted WHO standards, but these standards may not actually be the best for us,” he said. “Firstly, there is a huge difference in the concentration and components of PM2.5 pollution between China and the US. Also, there are differences in population demographics. Because Europe and the US have older populations than China, their population is more susceptible to PM 2.5.”
Yet, while China needs to develop its own PM2.5 standards which are suitable for itself, it is not yet capable of doing so, chiefly because China had not yet adopted PM2.5 standards nationwide, said Kan.