23 August 2019

Pollution culprits may soon have nowhere to hide

Beijing residents have been breathing relatively cleaner air in the past few days thanks to the northwestern chill that blew away the thick, filthy smog blanketing the capital and the rest of northern China for almost a week.

It was probably the worst weather Beijing has experienced since it began monitoring PM2.5 particulates in the air. The city’s readings of the airborne particulates with a diameter of 2.5 microns or less, which are the most dangerous as they could enter the lungs, stayed at 500-800 µg/m³ during the period, dozens of times higher than the World Health Organization standard of no more than 25 µg/m³.

Pictures of some statues on the Peking University campus wearing masks have been circulating widely on the internet, seen as an oblique protest against government’s failure to control the city’s worsening air pollution.

Amid the fresh round of public outcry, the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) is working double time to fight the scourge.

Even before the February haze, the ministry had already dispatched 12 units to Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei, Shandong, Henan, Shanxi and Inner Mongolia to conduct surprise checks, according to the state news agency Xinhua.

After the State Council mapped out a 10-point action plan to clean up the air in northern China, the ministry also began its random inspections of factories and mines, noting the crux of the matter is implementation.

The inspectors, says the Economic Observer, found a slew of pollutant sources including peasants’ slash-and-burn activities, unlicensed boilers, open-air mining and prospecting, etc.

Subsidiaries of some listed companies and governmental agencies were also held accountable for various violations, including failure to comply with more stringent emission reduction measures.

These include a key cement plant of the state-owned building material giant BBMG Corp. (02009.HK, 601992.CN), Beijing Yanjing Brewery (000729.CN), Beijing Shunxin Agriculture (000860.CN), Hebei Iron and Steel (000709.CN), Hebei Jianxin Chemical (300107.CN), Gemdale Corp. (600383.CN) and Beijing Railway Bureau.

For years, Beijing and Tianjin, whenever they are cloaked in dirty mist, point their fingers at Hebei province, where the two municipalities lie, for all sorts of pollution, and Hebei, just as automatically, blames the airborne dust from deserts and coal mines in Inner Mongolia.

But now that the ministry is taking serious steps to gauge and identify the main culprits, the blame game may soon come to an end.

Zhu Jianping {朱建平}, vice director at the MEP’s Department of Environmental Monitoring, told Xinhua that official data verified by the ministry will soon be made public and will serve as an important reference when the authorities redouble their efforts to contain pollution.

The Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center has said the bulk of the city’s air pollutants are locally generated, and among them, up to 22.2 percent comes from vehicle smoke and exhaust gas — the capital city has 5.2 million cars at the end of 2012, and local coal consumption is the second highest that account for 16.7 percent of the pollutants in the city.

These calculations are echoed by the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Atmospheric Physics (IAP), which pointed out in a 2013 research paper that a quarter of Beijing’s PM2.5 particulates come from heavily polluting pre-Euro and Euro I to III diesel vehicles that are yet to be phased out.

But there are also contradictory figures; an IAP analyst said in a dissertation that just 4 percent of pollutants come from vehicle emissions.

Initial data on major sources of pollutants in Beijing, Tianjin and the Hebei provincial capital of Shijiazhuang will be submitted to the State Council no later than July and other 23 cities across the nation, mainly in Yangtze River Delta and Pearl River Delta, will also compile their respective reports by year-end.

– Contact the writer at [email protected]



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