China launches biggest ever smog monitoring drive — and what the data tells us

China is producing way more air quality data than ever before.

And that data has revealed that the notorious Beijing smog is slowly but surely subsiding. That said, the country’s pollution problem is more widespread than previously thought, with central and western provinces recording dangerous concentrations of toxic particulates.

The new monitoring system is part of China’s ‘war on pollution’ — for which they’ve also introduced more stringent environmental regulations, and invested record sums in clean energies.

Read more: Air pollution increases risk of premature death in Chinese cities

As of this year, 367 cities are regularly monitoring the concentration of six air pollutants, including PM2.5.

PM2.5 is small pollutant particulate matter mostly emitted from coal and oil combustion — it can get deep into lungs and into the bloodstream, increasing the risk of respiratory and cardiac diseases as well as cancer.

Get the full dataset here

According to data collected up until the end of March, China’s notorious smog problem is gradually getting better — likely due to the stronger pollution controls brought in last year.

That said, 90% of the 360 cities ranked by Greenpeace East Asia still failed to meet the national PM2.5 air quality standard of 35μg/m3.

The overall average concentration of that particular pollutant particulate is 66μg/m3, and 141 cities (around 40%) have more than double the national standard.

With 2015 PM2.5 count of only 92 micrograms, Beijing no longer ranks among the most air polluted — it’s at 52.

Neither does Shanghai, the pollution concentration of which is right around the country’s (still dangerously high) average.


As for PM5, for which there’s now lots of data, only 32 cities were up to scratch.

This particulate, Greenpeace East Asia claims, also reveals the severity of the pollution problem in the country’s central and western regions.

The provinces of Henan and Hubei, where local governments are yet to enact the new pollution controls, are now dirtier than the notoriously toxic Hebei region — which, to be fair, has seen its smog decline by 31% since last year.

Sichuan, in the country’s southwest, is also dangerously air polluted.

The Beijing province still ranks as one of the five worst polluted, though its PM2.5 improved by more than 13% over the last year.

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