Sharing Air Quality Data in Beijing

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On Monday, during my first full day in China, I had the opportunity to visit the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau air monitoring center and hear from Director General Chen Tian about the organization’s commitment to tracking important environmental information and sharing it with the public.

Founded in 1974, the center is the first ever environmental monitoring center in China. It has 195 staff and 37 stations throughout the city, and does monitoring on air, water, soil and noise pollution.

The center is responsible for monitoring an area of almost 6,500 square miles–inhabited by 25 million people–and is home to state-of-the-art equipment that provides real time reporting. Beginning last year, the center started publishing hourly data on PM2.5, the fine particulate matter that has been shown to cause serious health problems, including heart attacks, strokes and premature death.

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This was an important stop during my visit, since the center provides detailed information on air quality in Beijing—and understanding the problem is the first necessary step in developing a long-term strategy to address this issue.

I’m impressed by China’s work to develop an effective air quality management infrastructure that’s centrally organized and locally implemented, understanding that success depends on engagement with provinces and cities like Beijing.

Addressing air quality issues presents both a challenge and an opportunity for cooperation between the U.S. and China.