Archive for the ‘blue sky days’ Category

nyt publishes long article on beijing’s air pollution, but makes mistake in second paragraph

Sunday, January 29th, 2012


Update 1/31/12: The story online has been corrected with a correction issued. Kudos to the NYT for ensuring even a minor mistake like this gets fixed.

Two days ago, the New York Times published a good article summarizing much of the current debate and recent progress regarding air pollution monitoring and reporting in Beijing.

Unfortunately, there is an error in the fourth sentence of the article:

Officials have claimed for years that the air quality in fast-growing China is constantly improving. Beijing, for example, was said to have experienced a record 274 “blue sky” days in 2011, a statistic belied by the heavy smog smothering the city for much of the year.

There are actually two errors here. First, Beijing reported 286 Blue Sky Days in 2011. 274 was simply their target for the year, which they achieved early and then exceeded. This is even stated clearly in the Xinhua article linked to directly from the NYT story. Second, even if Beijing had achieved 274 Blue Sky Days, this would not have been a record; the number of Blue Sky Days was above 274 in both 2009 and 2010.

The mistake doesn’t really impact the overall context or conclusions of the story, so from that perspective I suppose it can be considered minor. However, in my experience the Chinese are very quick to highlight small mistakes in Western media reports, and on this basis discredit entire articles (or even entire news sources). I worry that small mistakes like this undermine the impact of otherwise good reporting by Western journalists here.

I’m also just surprised something so basic got past the NYT’s fact checkers.

summary of beijing’s 2011 air quality

Saturday, December 31st, 2011

Each year for the past few years around this time, I’ve posted an overall summary of Beijing’s annual air quality (links to 2010, 2009, 2008). Although I’ve had less time this year to update this blog regularly, I thought I would come out of hiding this weekend to take a look again at overall trends.

I won’t repeat my methodology in this post (it’s described in detail in previous years’ summaries); let’s just jump straight to the conclusions.

Using MEP’s own data, I calculate that Beijing in 2011 had a Blue Sky Day count of 286 and a calculated average PM10 concentration of 114 ug/m3. Trends of Beijing’s Blue Sky Days and PM10 concentrations are shown here:

beijing air quality trends 00-11 v2

Update 1/29/12: I originally posted a 2011 Blue Sky Day count of 285, along with a comment (below) that I thought the Beijing EPB’s count of 286 was an error. I concluded this based on the fact that MEP’s datacenter contains 365 data points for 2011, of which only 285 are Blue Sky Days. It turns out, though, that one day (October 28th) is missing from the data set, while another day (November 1st) is duplicated. I did not notice this in my initial analysis. The duplicated day, November 1st, was not a Blue Sky Day. If we assume that the missing day, October 28th, was a Blue Sky Day (which appears to be supported by Beijing EPB data), then the Beijing EPB’s count of 286 is correct. The graph above has been updated to account for the new Blue Sky Day total. Note that this change does not affect my calculated PM10 average, which matches that reported by the Beijing EPB.

The good news:
According to MEP’s data, Beijing’s annual average PM10 concentration (shown in the dark blue curve) decreased slightly from 2010 to 2011. This is a welcome change after the stagnation we saw from 2008-2010. From the perspective of this metric, it appears as though Beijing is showing some (minor) progress again in improving air quality. Also encouraging was the fact that the number of Grade I days (what China calls “excellent” air quality) went up significantly, as shown in the light blue curve in the above graph. The number of Grade I days was bolstered by an absolutely incredible January 2011, which was Beijing’s best air quality month in at least a decade.

Also in the “good news” category, though independent of analysis of MEP’s air quality data: In the last two months of the year, we saw a massive proliferation of air quality discussion among the public and in the media here unlike anything we have seen since the Olympics. Why now is not so clear – in early November I postulated that it was due to a combination of a few terrible air quality streaks in October and growing public awareness of air pollution driven by social media (see similar analysis in AFP, WSJ, and Time). Regardless of the specific reasons, the result has been incredible public pressure on the Chinese government to take more aggressive action on monitoring, reporting, and controlling air pollution, especially PM2.5. Incredibly, this pressure appears to have succeeded in driving some change: most notably, MEP has now publicly committed to a timetable for measuring and reporting PM2.5; the People’s Daily even noted, “The media called the schedule published at the end of 2011, ‘A symbol of the public opinion’s victory in the air protection battle.’” More analysis of the specific PM2.5 targets and timetables in another post.

The bad news:
Beijing’s air quality still does not meet China’s own air quality standard, and is still nearly six times worse than the recommended particulate matter target set by the WHO. In other words, the air here is still just awful. (We even saw reports this year (the first in the Chinese media that I can remember) directly linking air pollution episodes to acute health impacts and even grounded flights.)

And, although I claimed some minor progress earlier, the progress was far from consistent. Removing the data from the uncharacteristically wonderful month of January, the average PM10 concentration for February through December 2011 turns out to be 119 ug/m3 – essentially unchanged from 2009 and 2010. This directly contradicts Beijing EPB comments made at the end of January that that progress was “far from one-off.

Even more bad news: the 2011 Blue Sky Day count exceeded Beijing’s goal of 274, but came up one day short of last year’s total of 286. This represents the first time in at least a decade that the annual number of Blue Sky Days has decreased year-on-year. (I should note here, however, that the Beijing EPB today reported 286 Blue Sky Days in 2011 – the same number as in 2010 – but I believe this to be an error. The Beijing EPB reported 19 Blue Sky Days in October, although my careful count of the data on MEP’s datacenter shows just 18 that month. I’ll keep my eye on the public statements to see if they fix this error in subsequent annual summaries.) (Edit 1/29/12: See note above regarding the resolution to the data discrepancy noted in this paragraph.)

Therefore, by China’s own currently reported data (both PM10 numbers and number of Blue Sky Days), Beijing’s air quality improvement efforts are really showing negligible progress. Even worse: Chinese data currently only cover PM10, not PM2.5, which, according to recent Chinese media reports, is actually getting worse here in Beijing. This is bad news, for a few reasons. Mainly, it’s bad news because the health impacts of PM2.5 are considerably worse than those of PM10. However, it’s also bad news politically for China, and hints at the challenges MEP will have when it begins reporting PM2.5. After claiming consistent progress for many years, how will MEP/Beijing EPB manage the fact that their new indicator shows the opposite trend?

Much more news to report on from this year, including Steve Andrews’ scathing critique of Beijing’s air quality from earlier this month, but further analysis on that will have to wait until next year.

Happy New Year everyone! Looks like it’s going to be an excited 2012 for all us air quality wonks.

beijing’s february air pollution more than twice as bad as january’s

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

In January of this year, Beijing experienced unprecedented air quality, with all 31 days being Blue Sky Days (“good” or “excellent” air quality). At the end of the month, Du Shaozhong, a Deputy Director at the Beijing EPB, claimed that this result was “far from one-off.” I disagreed, arguing that the sudden and dramatic reduction in air pollution in January could not reasonably be explained as simply the positive result of years of pollution control programs. (Although these programs have clearly had some impact, I think January’s outlier result was likely caused primarily by favorable meteorological conditions as opposed to changes in pollution sources.) Regardless, I noted that I’d be curious to see what happened in February, and what corresponding response – if any – the Beijing EPB offered.

Well, now February has passed, and the air quality results are in. Unfortunately, there is little to be “ebullient” about. There were just 18 Blue Sky Days in February (64%), and I calculated the average PM10 concentration over the month to be 144 ug/m^3. In addition to being well over twice as bad as January’s (during which the average PM10 concentration was just under 60 ug/m^3), this level is almost 50% worse than China’s own national ambient air quality standard, and over 7x worse than the WHO’s recommend annual limit.

The average was skewed by the four absolutely horrible air quality days from February 21-24, but even without considering those days, the average PM10 for the month was still 107 ug/m^3, above China’s standard and 5x worse than the WHO’s.

(As always, my data sources are MEP’s datacenter for API data, which I convert to PM10 concentration using formulas described here.)

I am still waiting for the Beijing EPB to issue their monthly air quality report, and will try to check in again once they do.

beijing’s good air quality streak ends at 43

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

Beijing’s longest streak of consecutive Blue Sky Days ended last Thursday after an unprecedented 43 days. It was a wonderful start to 2011: the cleanest January since 1998 and average air quality on par with that of the the Olympic and Paralympic Games period.

In my last post, I wondered why the Beijing EPB hadn’t claimed more vociferous credit. A few days later, they did just that. Du Shaozhong, a Deputy Director at the Beijing EPB, gave an “ebullient” interview to Jonathan Watts of the Guardian. (I’m honored that Watts also quoted this blog towards the end of the article.) Director Du described the comprehensive policies that Beijing has adopted to control air pollution, including retrofitting coal-fired power plants, switching home heating from coal to natural gas, implementing progressively stricter tailpipe emission standards, and scrapping older, high-emitting vehicles. He claimed that these efforts have resulted in a “positive, long-term story” of Beijing’s air quality since 1998. The improvements are particularly remarkable given the growth that Beijing has experienced during that time (e.g., the vehicle population increased from 1 million to 4.8 million from 1998 to 2010).

Overall, it’s a strong interview and article full of good information. But it’s also interesting to note what Director Du did not mention:

1) Why was January’s air quality so unusually and dramatically good? Watts writes, “[Director Du] acknowledged that the air quality over the past month had benefited from meteorological conditions – strong winds and cold fronts – but said the improvement was far from a one-off.” The problem here is that the air quality in January was so unexpectedly good that the explanation that it was simply – or mainly – the result of Beijing’s long-term pollution control efforts is unbelievable. Surely the Beijing EPB has some estimate of the contribution of favorable weather / wind to last month’s good air quality, especially considering the Beijing EPB has blamed the weather in the past for poor air quality? If January’s good air quality was “far from a one-off,” does this mean we can expect this much improved air quality to continue? (If it doesn’t, then I will be very curious to see what explanation is offered (if any) when the air pollution levels go back up to more expected levels for this time of year.)

2) It’s true that 2011′s air quality has been very good compared to 1998. But isn’t it disingenuous to claim a consistent trend given the fact that Beijing’s average air quality has stagnated since 2008? Existing control programs have seemingly been effective in maintaining the current air pollution levels in the face of continued rapid growth. Barring continued favorable weather, is there strong reason to expect that the remainder of 2011 will be better than 2009 and 2010?

beijing enjoys first completely blue sky month since 1998

Monday, January 31st, 2011

Beijing’s incredible streak of consecutive Blue Sky Days continues, standing now at 40 days. (Past coverage here and here.) As I noted in my last post, what we are experiencing is not merely some minor or subtle improvement. Beijing’s air pollution levels over the past month have been less than half of what they usually are this time of year. This is remarkable.

The Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau weighed in today in their monthly air quality assessment:

1月份,我市空气质量天天达标,其中一级18天,二级13天,比去年同期多6天,距全年274天(75%)的目标还差243天。全月空气质量天天达标,是我市自1998年以来第一次。

1月份空气质量天天达标,充分说明我市多年来防治大气污染尤其是治理冬季燃煤污染取得了明显成效。

市环保监测中心专家指出,春节期间开车出行和燃放烟花爆竹等也会影响到空气质量。希望大家注意合理用车,有节制地燃放烟花爆竹,尽可能减少这些活动对大气环境的影响。

Rough translation (emphasis mine):

In January, Beijing’s air quality met the standard every day. There were 18 Grade I days and 13 Grade II days, an increase of 6 days more than the same period last year. There are 243 days remaining before Beijing achieves its yearly target of 274 (75%) days meeting the ambient air quality standard. This month is the first complete month since 1998 in which every day in Beijing has met the air quality standard.

That every day in January met the air quality standard is a strong testament to the clear results obtained by many years of pollution prevention and control work, especially control of pollution in winter from burning coal.

Experts from the Beijing Environmental Monitoring Center note that car operation and fireworks during the Spring Festival time will affect air quality. Everyone should pay attention to use vehicles reasonably and set off fireworks in a controlled way, so as to reduce the impact of these activities on air quality.

The summary is rather understated given how dramatically improved the air quality was this month. My guess is that the Beijing EPB is as surprised as the rest of us at how terrific the air quality has been recently, and are reluctant to claim too much credit before further analysis is done. While it’s true that we are certainly seeing some fruits of the variety of emission control programs implemented over the past decade, I think that a bigger factor recently has been consistent weather patterns favorable to pollutant dispersion as opposed to major changes in source emissions.

This graph shows my estimations of average PM10 concentration in Beijing in January, 2001-2011. This year is clearly a (very welcome and very dramatic) anomaly:

january pm10

beijing breaks record for longest streak of consecutive blue sky days – best air quality in years

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

Great news! Today is Beijing’s 36th consecutive Blue Sky Day, a day whose Air Pollution Index (API) is 100 or below, indicating “excellent” or “good” air quality. As far as I can tell, this is the longest consecutive streak of Blue Sky Days in Beijing for at least ten years. Previously, there were only three streaks of 30 days or longer, one in 2006 and two during the Olympics.

Although we have seen gaming of the Blue Sky Day metric in the past, in this case both the data and public observation support dramatically cleaner air quality over January 2011 than in months and years past.

On the data side, for the 36-day period December 23, 2010 to January 27, 2011, I calculated an average particulate matter concentration of around 64 ug/m3 in Beijing. (API to PM10 concentration methodology here.) While this is still well above the WHO’s recommended annual limit of 20 ug/m3, this pollution level is less than half of that over the same period in 2009-2010, and is actually on par with the pollution levels during the Olympic (57 ug/m3) and Paralympic (71 ug/m3) periods, which were widely regarded as successful.

Looking at the data another way, an astonishing 18 of the past 36 days have been Grade I “excellent” air quality days in Beijing, which means the API is 50 or below. In 2001, Beijing only had 12 Grade I air quality days the entire year.

From a public observation perspective, I offer up for evidence the conversation I mentioned in my last post which made me start thinking about the streak, this e-mail I received two days ago from another friend:

I’ve been meaning to ask but since pretty much Christmas Eve I feel like has been the best stretch of air quality since I landed here…even better than the Olympics (which I caught the tail end of). My general air quality test is how well I can see the mountains from Tsinghua or Andingmen bridge. Rarely has there been a miss. I must have clearly seen stars all but a handful of nights and I can’t think of a day that’s looked polluted from start to finish. Are my eyes merely deceiving? Is the wind just being very helpful? Or has there actually been a drop locally?

and finally, the Beijing Air feature from the Asia Society, which features daily pictures, monthly averages, and weekly comparisons of Beijing’s air quality with that of New York. Here’s the past week comparison between Beijing (top row) and New York (bottom row):

asia society jan 11 1
They note, “This week has been by far the cleanest in terms of both blue-ness and air quality stable performance. Even New York looked less impressive.”

So why has the air quality been so uncharacteristically good recently? Unfortunately, I have no data-backed theories, although I would guess it’s a combination of existing pollution control programs and standards beginning to bear fruit, economic slowdown prior to the Chinese New Year holiday, and really favorable weather patterns that have prevented any pollution from building up. (Perhaps the lack of pollution build-up is also related to similar weather patterns that have prevented any measurable precipitation in Beijing since October 23rd.)  Regardless, it’s a great air quality start to 2011. Let’s see how much longer the streak can go.

how long can beijing’s good air quality streak last?

Sunday, January 16th, 2011

Over the past few weeks in Beijing, the air quality has seemed uncharacteristically good. In fact, Beijing has had 25 consecutive Blue Sky Days – days for which the Air Pollution Index has been at 100 or below, representing “good” or “excellent” air quality. This morning a friend remarked that she couldn’t remember any other time when the air quality has been this good for so long continuously. I decided to investigate her claim.

Here’s what I found. Going back to 2001, I only found 6 streaks of 25 or more consecutive Blue Sky Days. They were as follows:

6/24/06 – 7/28/06 (35 days)
7/31/06 – 8/24/06 (25 days)
1/21/08 – 2/18/08 (29 days)
7/28/08 – 8/28/08 (32 days)
8/30/08 – 9/29/08 (31 days)
8/19/10 – 9/14/10 (27 days)

The two streaks in the summer of 2008 were clearly linked to the temporary pollution reduction policies put in place for the Olympics and Paralympics. I’m not sure what caused the other streaks, especially the excellent summer of 2006.

The current streak began on 12/23/10. Let’s see how long it can go! Track it yourself here at the MEP datacenter.

summary of beijing’s 2010 air quality

Friday, January 14th, 2011

Happy New Year! For each of the past two years around this time (link to 2008, link to 2009), I’ve posted a summary of the previous year’s air quality in Beijing. This post contains some data and notes on 2010.

My data source, as always, is the datacenter of the Ministry of Environmental Protection, which archives historical Beijing air quality data here. (Note that I’m using the daily averages, not the recently released hourly data.) All I’m doing is copying the data into Excel, then parsing it and doing some conversions to look for patterns. The most important conversion is converting Air Pollution Index (API) to ambient particulate matter (PM) concentration, using the equations described here. This is important for two reasons. First, the conversion allows for averaging, which should not be done with API data directly. Second, ambient PM concentration is a much better indicator of the health impact of air pollution in Beijing, allowing for direct comparison to international air quality standards and existing health effect studies.

Now on to the data. The datacenter reports 363 data points for 2010 (3/15 and 5/21 are missing). Assuming those two days were Blue Sky Days yields a Blue Sky Day count of 286 and a calculated average PM10 concentration of 122 ug/m3. The Blue Sky Day count of 286 has been confirmed by the Beijing EPB, but the PM10 concentration value probably won’t be released for another few months.

As a reminder, Blue Sky Days are days for which the API is at or below 100, which China deems “excellent” or “good” air quality. Cities count the annual number of Blue Sky Days as an easily-understood measure of air quality progress, although the metric has been gamed in the past and is actually scientifically meaningless.

This figure shows trends of Beijing’s Blue Sky Days and PM10 concentration since 2000:

beijing air quality trends 00-10
The Bad News: Beijing’s air pollution levels, as represented by ambient particulate matter concentration, have remained flat for the past three years, actually getting slightly worse from 2009 to 2010. This is consistent with results reported in mid-2010. Beijing’s air quality still does not meet China’s own air quality standard, and is six times worse than the recommended particulate matter target set by the WHO.

The Good News: Beijing’s 286 Blue Sky Days in 2010 far exceeded its target (266), and miraculously managed to beat last year’s total by just one day. In addition, there was a slight increase in the number of Grade I (“excellent”) air quality days as compared with 2009 (as shown in the above graph in light blue). This is dramatic turn-around from the way things looked in the first half of the year. Given that over 700,000 vehicles were sold in Beijing in 2010, I suppose the fact that the pollution didn’t get even worse can be viewed in some respects as a success.

Beijing’s Environmental Protection Bureau really struggled to call 2010 a success. On December 31st, they released a short note stating, “今年我市空气质量二级和好于二级的天数累计达到286天,占78.4%,比去年多1天,实现了空气质量连续12年持续改善,” meaning, “This year, the number of days in our city meeting the Grade II or better air quality standard totaled 286, representing 78.4% of all days, one more than last year. This has realized 12 consecutive years of air quality improvement.” The last statement is highly dubious, especially given my preliminary conclusion that the average PM10 concentration was higher in 2010 than 2009. It will be interesting to see how and if the EPB’s statements change when the PM numbers are released in the environmental annual report later this year.

Related posts:
Summary of Beijing’s 2009 air quality
Summary of Beijing’s 2008 air quality

counting grade 1 air quality days – a new metric for evaluating Beijing’s air quality?

Monday, August 30th, 2010

Earlier this month, the Economist featured a nice piece about the ineffectiveness of current efforts to improve China’s environmental quality, including some discussion of recent decreases in air quality. The authors cite the official Ministry of Environmental Protection announcement for overall air quality averages in cities across the country, but run their own numbers for Beijing specifically, arriving at this conclusion:

Residents of Beijing, who hoped the clear skies they enjoyed during the 2008 Olympic Games would persist, have also resumed their grumbling. Smog is back with a vengeance…

Official data show a diminishing share of grade 1 (“excellent”) air-quality days since the games.

The claim is supported with this chart:

201032asc031

This chart caught my attention because it’s the first time I’ve seen “percentage of Grade 1 air quality days” used as an indicator of air quality. Usually, data for Grade 1 and Grade 2 are presented together. The reason is because China’s ambient air quality standard calls for urban air quality to meet only the Grade 2 level. (“Blue Sky Days” are days which have Grade 1 (excellent) or Grade 2 (good) air quality by the Chinese standards.) Charting percentage of days meeting Grade 1 or Grade 2 yields a very different impression:

number grade 1 and 2 through july 2010

Using this metric of Grade 1 or 2, there is no apparent decrease in air quality from 2008 to 2009, the drop from 2009 to 2010 seems minimal, and the overall situation appears much less dire (the percentage of passing days floats above 70% as opposed to 10%).

Two questions come to mind here. First, is it misleading for the Economist to use this unconventional metric? Maybe. The article neither describes what Grade 1 means nor justifies why “percentage of Grade 1 days” is an appropriate / better indicator of air quality, although Grade 2 is discredited using an comparison to the BeijingAir Twitter feed:

The American embassy in Beijing, to the annoyance of local officials, issues frequent air-quality readings for its part of the city. These, based on the presence of fine particulates, mostly ranged from “moderate” to “unhealthy” in the 24 hours after midday on July 31st. But the government called that period grade 2, or “good”. Incredibly, to anyone familiar with China’s perennially grey urban landscapes, fully 91% of days in 113 big cities in the first half of this year were described as “blue sky”.

Second question: is it correct to talk about percentage of Grade 1 days? That’s tough to answer. The technical answer is no, it’s not, because any use of “number of days” or “percentage of days” meeting a single standard is statistically meaningless. (For a short and nerdy explanation of this, see this post). That having been said, though, I do believe that scrutinizing Beijing’s air quality by looking at Grade 1 – instead of Grades 1 and 2 – days provides a much more reasonable snapshot of the actual air quality in the city. For one thing, China’s air quality limits for Grade 1 are much closer to internationally-recognized standards. For another, one would assume that there is lower risk for data manipulation around the Grade 1/2 border than around the Grade 2/3 border.

I raised the idea of looking closer at Grade 1 earlier this year. Maybe it’s time for a more in depth analysis, but I’ll save that for another post.

official data shows air quality worsening in china

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

Last week, multiple media outlets (including Xinhua, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal) reported on MEP’s admission of worsening air quality during the first half of 2010. Here, I will take a closer look at how this was reported, what exactly this means, and what is happening in Beijing specifically.

First of all, the original announcement from MEP is here (Chinese only). Both Xinhua* and the Wall Street Journal made major mistakes in their reporting of the announcement. Both reported that the average atmospheric particulate level rose to 0.091 mg/m^3 from 0.002 mg/m^3 last year. This is incorrect. Doesn’t anyone check original sources any more? The MEP report says “可吸入颗粒物浓度同比上升0.002毫克/立方米。” This means that the PM level is 0.002 mg/m^3 higher than last year’s, not that last year’s value was 0.002 mg/m^3. Someone pointed this out in the comments section of the Wall Street Journal article (which claims the increase is “humongous”), but it still hasn’t been corrected.

The Wall Street Journal also made the mistake of claiming that “the first half of 2010 had the worst air quality since 2005.” This is also not true. MEP’s announcement, which the WSJ story links to, says, “自2005年以来,环保重点城市空气质量优良天数比例首次出现下降,可吸入颗粒物浓度首次上升。” The correct interpretation here is that the first half of 2010 is the first period since 2005 that there has been a decrease in air quality from one year to the next. In other words, the trend of improving air quality has changed. At least Xinhua got this one right:

Economic recovery has partly caused the country’s air quality to fall in the first half of the year, the first such fall since 2005, figures from environmental authorities showed on Monday…”It was the first time for these cities to record a fall in the number of days with good air quality and a rise in the concentration of inhalable particles since 2005,” ministry spokesman Tao Detian said.

Unfortunately, the WSJ’s mistakes are already bouncing around the blogosphere.

Of course, despite the mistakes I’ve pointed out, the story is still quite significant. After years of official statistics showing improving air quality, MEP’s air quality data now shows a very slight increase in ambient particulate matter concentration. The data MEP gives are average pollution levels for 113 major cities, which is a little strange, since pollution levels vary widely across China. Although the averages are an interesting snapshot (and it is significant that MEP is reporting this bad news), these averages are not very meaningful; they say nothing about regional trends / changes or population exposure. This is an important area for more detailed research.

MEP’s announcement also gives averages in percentages of days meeting Class I and II air quality standards (so-called “Blue Sky Days“), but this metric is meaningless, as described previously on this blog.

What is more interesting is looking at data on individual cities. After all, most people spend most of their time in a single city. Plus, local and regional pollution control programs may vary from place to place. For Beijing specifically, I ran my own analysis of Beijing’s API data for the first half of the year using data I downloaded from MEP’s datacenter. After converting API to PM10 concentration using the methodology described here, I calculated the average PM10 concentration for the first half of 2010 in Beijing to be 124 ug/m^3. I also produced the following figure:

Beijing 2000-2010a

The figure shows that Beijing’s air quality, using average PM10 concentration as an indicator, has not shown improvement over the period 2008-2010. This trend is a continuation of the stagnant pollution levels I described earlier this year. Although MEP’s 113-city average (91 ug/m^3) is below China’s ambient air quality standard (100 ug/m^3), Beijing’s air quality remains well above China’s own standard, which is well, well above the WHO’s.

For those of you keeping track of Blue Sky Days, the Beijing EPB announced that there were 140 Blue Sky Days in the first half of the year, which, despite the increase in air pollution, somehow means Beijing is still on track to meet its Blue Sky Day goal. But this is a subject for another post.

Anyone who read this blog over the period 2008 to 2009 will know that I often repeated a two-part mantra: Beijing’s air quality is getting better, but we have a long way to go. I always felt that acknowledging the first part was critical to making progress working with China, and I was happy to see the New York Times article last October making this exact claim (headline: “Beijing’s Air is Cleaner, but Far from Clean;” my analysis here) It is frustrating and sad that this is no longer the case, even by China’s official data.

*To be fair to Xinhua, their mistake was only one word. Their report states, “The amount of inhalable particles, a major air pollution index, was also 0.091 milligrams per cubic meter in these cities, rising from 0.002 milligrams per cubic meter over the same period last year, the ministry reported.” The problem in this sentence is the one word “from,” which significantly changes the meaning (from incorrect to correct) if removed.