Shanghai tries damage control by calling US PM2.5 data illegal
Having clearly learned nothing from the public embarrassment of their colleagues in Beijing last year, Shanghai's Environmental Protection Bureau has branded publication of local air quality data by the US consulate in Shanghai illegal.
At a press conference on Friday bureau director Zhang Quan said the consulate cannot legally reveal data it collects in PM2.5 tests, which measure the concentration of particulate matter of 2.5 microns or less in diameter.
"There are certain criteria that must be met if these data are to be published officially," Zhang said. "A city needs at least eight to ten monitoring stations in various spots, depending on its size, to measure PM2.5. An analysis of a city's air quality cannot be done using readings from a single machine."
In making the point about citywide coverage Zhang was, in fact, repeating what the US consulate says on its website: “Citywide analysis of air quality cannot be done using readings from a single machine.”
Zhang also took issue with the Americans expressing their reading in terms of the US Air Quality Index, saying that “the US follows the standards for developed countries while we follow the relatively low standards for countries that have just begun taking PM2.5 readings."
The consulate said it was publishing the data to inform US citizens living in Shanghai about conditions in the city. It said the monitor is an unofficial source of information and is meant to protect the health of the consulate community.
Both sides are actually being rather disingenuous. The US consulate obviously intends to do more than simply inform its citizen about the air quality around its Huaihai Middle Road offices. And, as pointed out in CleanBiz Asia last month, there are problems with how the US consulate is presenting its data, which can be misleading to members of the general public.
The Shanghai Environment Bureau, on the other hand, appears guilty of not following the example of Guangzhou in moving quickly to adopt China's new Ambient Air Quality Standards (GB-3095-2012) and Air Quality Index (HJ633-2012), well ahead of the year-end deadline for 74 cities across China.
The Shanghai bureau is still using the old air quality index and issuing an overall assessment of air quality that amalgamates its readings for PM10, SO2 and Nox, but not PM2.5, which is also misleading.
The bureau has been releasing 24-hour PM2.5 combined measurements from two monitoring stations - one in Putuo District and one in Zhangjiang in the Pudong New Area – since March and will start releasing hourly readings from these and 10 new monitoring spots by the end of the month.
In comparison to the US consulate's PM2.5 readings director Zhang conceded that: "As a matter of fact, the readings we've got are similar.”
The discrepancy between the US consulate's somewhat misleading hourly PM2.5 announcements and the local environmental bureau's old-style pronouncement on overall air quality has raised concerns among Shanghainese.
Zhang's crass claim that the US diplomats are acting illegally by publishing their PM2.5 will do nothing to bolster the credibility of his bureau. In this day and age the Shanghainese don't regard their city as being a “relatively low standard” sort of place.