Airborne pollution in Kunming appears to be getting worse, but finding reliable data proving this assertion is no easy task. Daily smog readings published by the Kunming Environmental Protection Bureau (KEPB) are regularly half those reported by independent sources, Life newspaper is reporting.
In question are statistics measuring the presence of ultra-fine pollutants smaller than 2.5 micrometers. Commonly referred to as PM2.5, these particles are generated both naturally and by human activity. Elevated levels in cities are often associated with the burning of fossil fuels, especially in vehicles and coal-fired power plants.
Kunming monitoring stations on Dongfeng Dong Lu and in Longquan Town report that Kunming's air quality generally has a rating of between 80 and 100. The rating is calculated using the United States Environmental Protection Agency's air quality index (AQI). A score of 51-100 using this metric is termed "moderate" and health risks posed by PM2.5 are considered low.
Independent ratings based on numbers released by Beijing have consistently placed Kunming's AQI between 150 and 200 over the past two weeks, which is classified as "unhealthy". Liu Chuan (刘川), head of KEBP, told reporters discrepancies between his bureau's numbers and national reporting agencies were due to differences in sample durations and calculations.
He went on to explain "...due to the colder weather, Kunming's air pollution index has increased. It is close to the limit of air quality standards, but not excessive. The air quality is still good." When asked about Chinese air quality reports that showed Kunming had the third worst air pollution in the country for one day last week, Liu was non-committal: "We have not studied their data. We don't know how they got their rankings."
Local and national reports do agree that Kunming's air pollution levels spike early in the morning. Particulate matter then gradually decreases until 6pm when conditions are at their best. People wanting to exercise have been advised to do so in the evening and eschew morning work-outs.
Incessant construction and the addition of hundreds of new cars each day to Kunming's streets are both contributing factors to the city's air quality. Recent forest fires in Anning could have exacerbated smog levels as well.
Air pollution stories have become something of an obsession for Chinese media recently. The fixation began January 12, after the US Embassy in Beijing released statistics showing the capital had an AQI of 755 — 255 points above the scale's measurement limit.
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