China

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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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Science Wednesday: China and Global Air Pollution

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

About the author: Julie A. Layshock is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Environmental & Molecular Toxicology at Oregon State University. Her work is funded by an EPA Science to Achieve Results (EPA STAR) Graduate Research Fellowship. She is looking forward to a career focused on reducing human exposure to pollutants.

Westerly winds over the Pacific Ocean efficiently carry sea salt and dust from the Gobi Desert to the western United States. Recently, scientists have begun to detect other, less welcome, things in the wind, too: air particles laden with pollutants from fossil fuels.

People from countries around the world cause tons of pollutants to be emitted into the air we breathe. Everything from operating vehicles, to burning coal and natural gas for heat and electricity, and manufacturing and industry activities all contribute to the global transport of air pollution. The contribution this global transport makes to local air conditions is poorly understood, and the impact it makes to human health can not yet be estimated.

That’s where my research comes in.

image of author with clipboardI am working toward answering questions concerning long-distance air pollution and how China might contribute to pollution in the United States. In my travels to China, I have seen first-hand the effects air pollution can have on human health. Understandable questions arise: Can we really quantify the contribution of pollutants from China and determine the how they affect a person in the United States?

I spent several months in China collecting air particles that I can use to compare with ones I have collected in the Pacific Northwest. My goal is to identify specific pollutants arising from en route chemical reactions in the atmosphere. Using the chemical “signatures” of the particles, combined with powerful meteorological and wind mapping models, I aim to distinguish Chinese sources from our locally produced air pollution. In the laboratory, I am also designing toxicity tests using the collected particles and identifying the most toxic combustion byproducts.

The results of my research could provide much needed insight into the global movement of these combustion-derived pollutants that are attached to particles in the air.

Demonstrating that these pollutants are capable of traveling half-way around the world highlights the need to reduce this type of pollution. Alternative energies and creative pollution control techniques are just a few of the directions that could result from my research.

For further information, I can be reached at layshocj@onid.orst.edu.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Greening the Dragon

About the author: Ken Sandler is Co-Chair of EPA’s Green Building Workgroup. He has worked for EPA since 1991 on sustainability issues including green building, recycling and indoor air quality.

This past summer, the world’s eyes turned to Beijing to watch the Olympics. With that attention came more scrutiny to the many environmental issues resulting from China’s long economic boom.

Two facts demonstrate the mix of hope and challenge that China represents for our future. First, carbon dioxide emissions (the greatest contributor to climate change) are growing rapidly in China, to the point that some estimate China has already surpassed the U.S. as the world’s leading emitter. Yet China also is projected to have surpassed the rest of the world as the leading producer of clean, renewable energy – including wind, solar and hydropower (according to the Renewables 2007 report sponsored by Germany).

I had the privilege of visiting this remarkable country this past April, as part of an EPA delegation meeting the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) in Beijing. On this trip, I got to meet people who are working to make green building a reality in China, from the government, major universities (Tsinghua, Shanghai Research Institute of Building Sciences, Huazhong University of Science and Technology) and even a government-supported non-profit (Administrative Center for China’s Agenda 21).

While there are vast differences between the situations of our two countries – chief among them the major environmental crises facing China and the disparity between our governmental systems – I was struck by a few of the similarities. There, as here, the status quo too often prevails against the wisdom of making our buildings more efficient in their use of energy, water and materials, and healthier to live in and around. There, as here, progress often hinges on the initiative of a few heroic individuals willing to stick their necks out to try something new and innovative.

I got to meet several such individuals on my trip, working on such projects as the Eco-House that will be showcased at the Shanghai World Expo in 2010. They were eager to learn more about EPA programs like Brownfields and ENERGY STAR, and about the progress Americans have made in establishing green building as a major trend in the U.S.

In the Olympic spirit, I’d like to see the US engage in strenuous but healthy competition with China, to see which of our countries can move faster toward discovering and applying the greenest technologies – in our buildings, vehicles, factories and more. Call it the race for the Green Medal – and let the games begin!

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.