Can China improve the air?

OK, it is really really bad

As posted earlier, the horrible pollution days have greeted us in the Christmas – New Year period. Many Chinese, and of course many foreigners, have doubts China will and can do something about it. Can China improve the air?


(Source SCMP)

Here some more pictures showing the pollution as seen from my house in Beijing, some taken above the Beijing CBD (as from the China Zun building under construction), and more.

Officials admit defeat, as for now

At least officials admit the skies are less blue than planned and progress has been little.
Read this telling article:
“Cool change on smog policy as Chinese officials warn of long fight ahead. Gone is the determined and optimistic tone of the past, with officials admitting that few gains have been made in clearing the air.” Dated 9 January 2017.

The recent poor air quality reflects the failure of previous commitments to tackle pollution.

In 2014, as Beijing launched a 760 billion yuan fund to clean up the city’s air, it vowed to s
lve the smog problem by 2017.
The official tone has changed. On Saturday, acting Beijing mayor Cai Qi said he shared the public’s frustration over air pollution.
A decision was taken in November to reset the ambitious 2017 goal. Instead of cutting levels of PM2.5 by more than a third from 2013 to an average of 56 micrograms per cubic meter by 2017, the aim is to do so by 2020.

But maybe for once I try to be an optimist.
See some of the indications.

Public transport and car regulations

As mentioned in my previous post, rail and city public transport is still a high priority.
As for Beijing, another major ring road is to be built, making a huge circle around Beijing so the trucks don’t need anymore to pass Beijing on their way to other regional destinations.
Slowly the quality of the gasoline is being improved but issues still remain with the bad quality of diesel.
As long as highway tolls remain too high, we will see continuing overloading of the trucks, a danger but also a source of pollution.
Beijing will soon cordon off the city for much of local traffic. The “Uber” type of services will also see restrictions: only Beijing hukou drivers and Beijing plates – now most of those services use Hebei drivers and cars.

How a real Beijinger reacts to pollution

Humor (?) is never far away

Yeah, we are all so aware the air is bad. Here how a real Beijinger reacts to pollution, with an “adapted mask”.

One needs a smoke, whatever happens. Found on WeChat and this went viral…
Sorry guys but I do not have the ordering details for the mask.
Not sure if they have the appropriate models for cigars and pipes.

Finding the polluters in China

Where does it come from?

TanSat will allow China finding the polluters in China, a major problem as many in the industry disobey the environmental laws. See earlier post.
China is to clamp down further on the industrial polluters, especially the smaller companies, as announced on 7 January.
“Small factories face anti-smog scrutiny” China Daily 7 January 2017

In 2015, industrial use of coal accounted for about 46% of the total coal consumption, but these furnaces did not have stringent environmental standards that matched those of the thermal power industry.
Right now the biggest challenge for the government is enforcement. They even started to use drones to inspect the polluters from a safe distance. Going there they get beaten up – or killed.
It has become a war…
See more about the interesting drones story here:
29 May 2015 – Caixin Online
China Uses Drones to Monitor Pollution Problem from Above
Central and local officials flying remote control drones to identify sources of pollution and gather information about air quality.

I quote a part:

The Ministry of Environmental Protection has also had drones fly over steel mills, refineries and power plants to gather information about possible emission violations. On May 18, 2015, the ministry published information on its website regarding penalties imposed on several major industrial companies in Hebei Province, in the north, that drones caught committing emissions violations. China has spent billions of yuan in recent decades to develop a national pollution monitoring system, but its effects have been limited because polluters always seem to be able to find ways to hide.

Burning the fields

A Dutch friend took these pictures on the Highway S10 between Shenyang (Liaoning) and Tonghua (Jilin).

See all the burning fields. It is illegal but farmers still do it unpunished, a major contribution to air pollution in the region.

The new pollution police

Officials in Beijing are taking steps toward tackling the city’s long-standing smog problem with the creation of an environmental police force, according to state media. Spearheaded by Beijing’s acting mayor Mayor Cai Qi, the political crackdown on burning fossil fuels comes amid a flurry of concern over the country’s choking air pollution.
See here:

Beijing super smog and traffic changes


I am not sure who first came up with that word to describe Beijing super smog. Here one of the many articles:
Photos of China’s ‘Airpocalypse’ — where industrial smog makes the country a living hell for half a billion people, by Louise Liu, Business Insider, 22 December 2016

Indeed, Beijing has in the past weeks seen some real horrible pollution. “The thick, toxic air has caused flights to be canceled, classes to be suspended, and alerts to be issued by the government encouraging people to insulate themselves from air. Under a charcoal-tinted sky and toxic fumes, half a billion people can’t live or step outside without wearing masks.”

And it came up all of a sudden

On 2 January I jumped on my bike to meet a friend for lunch. I checked the AQI, it looked good so I did not take a mask. That was a mistake.

As shown in these images and video it came as in a horror movie.

The time-lapse video shows Beijing swamped by a tide of smog. The video, just 12 seconds long, shows smog descending on the 3rd Ring Road over a 20 minutes period, towards the CCTV Tower and other buildings. The video circulated all over the world. It was by taken by Chas Pope, a British worker, that very day.

What about the masks?

To face the Beijing super smog, in-house I use my air filtering machines, outside my choice of 3M masks.


See how black the disposables become after some days. Time for a new one.
I now basically only use 3M, the ‘chemical war type” for heavy duty and the disposable one (pretty cheap like 10 RMB) for “normal” use. Both work well on the bicycle (one has to breathe!).
There are other masks of course, see here one “guide” (I stick to mine!):


Beijing: very strict rules on the way

Beijing announced stricter emission standards for cars to improve air quality. Starting on 15 December 2016 gasoline cars with National I and II emission standards are banned from the road when the city has an orange or red air-quality alert. Furthermore, those cars will be banned from the road from Monday to Friday starting on 15 February 2017. The number of cars with National I and II emission standards make up 8% of the cars registered in Beijing, but the emissions from those cars account for more than 30% of all emissions.
Also, soon cars older than ten years will be banned from the “center” (inside 5th ring road).
As far as the insiders tell me: cars from outside the 5th ring road might be simply all face serious restrictions (new number plates coming?!).

Chinese air purifying machines

Chinese air purifying machines: many “choices”

I never buy a Chinese air purifying machine but sometimes we get them as a present. I also tested the cheap Xiaomi machine in a friend’s house (cost: something like under 900 RMB).
The machines we really use are IQAir and AMWAY.


Yesterday we got a new machine, the “ZB-801” (no English name found). As the pollution levels were climbing we decided to open the box and see what it could achieve. Inside the house we had AQI around 220, using the excellent LaserEgg from Origins.
I decided to test the two Chinese air purifying machines. Well, results were worse than expected.

The ZB-801 delivered air at just above AQI 150. Also that machine is not user-friendly as it always switches off instead of working constantly.
The older machine, a brand called DEERMA, was even worse, delivering AQI above 160.  Their slogan “The best choice for your healthy breath” is obviously a sick joke.
The test with the Swiss-made IQAir showed the real thing: the output went immediately down to 4, which actually is zero according to Origins.

So, if you need a machine against the Beijing pollution, buy a LaserEgg to check the real condition (and adjust the speed) and a quality machine such as IQAir, AMWAY, BlueAir and alike.
Throw out the Chinese junk.

The cheap Xiaomi: it seemed actually to perform a bit better, delivering AQI below 50. But is is suitable for small spaces only and cannot constantly work at its higher speed.
I guess using a big fan with a good HEPA filter taped to it is better and cheaper.
The Chinese consumer industry has a long way to go…

Greener Beijing, there is some hope

The number of cars is increasing in China. Figures published in July 2016: In China the total number of cars now 184 million, with 135 million private cars. Driving license total 296 million. Beijing: 5.44 million cars.

Rumors go around of more traffic restrictions in Beijing as well as road fees to enter the center of the city (“congestion fees”). Another much more controversial plan – being carried out – is to simply lower the city population by making life difficult and expensive for migrants. In my opinion, unsustainable as it is chasing away all the people providing services.

China Daily on 3 September 2016 published the following data on Beijing, see:


Some of the figures:
– 2015 population 21.71 million
– 2015 registered vehicles: 5.62 million (notice, as usual, the difference with the figure above!)
– metro lines: 2015 554 Km – 2020 1,000 Km
– evolution of PM2.5 and “good air days”

In July China Daily also published the sources of PM2.5 in Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei:


That is in line with my assessment that pollution in Beijing is roughly: one third cars / one third local industry / one third coming from the outside.
Coordination between areas has grown into a major issue in the fight against air pollution, especially in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region.
Beijing has set an air pollution reduction target for PM2.5 at 60 micrograms per cubic meter by 2017. The city averaged 80.9 micrograms in 2015, suggesting the target will be hard to reach.
See the full article here:
12 July 2016 – Lots of bad air blows in from elsewhere
China Daily article

Beijing now has 68,000 public bicycles, and some new models. The city has also launched an app to provide real-time location data, nearby rental stations, number of available bikes etc. The rental bikes were launched in 2012 and I see more and more on the road.

Coal burning in China: deadly

See the original article for more details. Do note the study was done by a famous university in Beijing, not some foreign group.

Coal Burning Causes the Most Air Pollution Deaths in China, Study Finds

Burning coal has the worst health impact of any source of air pollution in China and caused 366,000 premature deaths in 2013, Chinese and American researchers said on Thursday.
Coal is responsible for about 40% of the deadly fine particulate matter known as PM 2.5 in China’s atmosphere, according to a study the researchers released in Beijing.
The study, which was peer-reviewed, grew out of a collaboration between Tsinghua University in Beijing, one of China’s top research universities, and the Health Effects Institute, based in Boston, a research center that receives funding from the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the worldwide motor vehicle industry. The researchers’ primary aim was to identify the main sources of air pollution leading to premature deaths in China.

Some more highlights of the article:

– 155,000 deaths in 2013 related to ambient PM 2.5 to industrial coal burning, and 86,500 deaths to coal burning at power plants;
– Fuel combustion of both coal and biomass in households was another major cause of disease that year, resulting in 177,000 deaths;
– Transportation was a major cause of mortality related to PM 2.5, with 137,000 deaths attributed to it in 2013.
– China consumes almost as much coal annually as all other countries combined, and coal burning in the country is the biggest source of both air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, the leading cause of climate change.
– Growth in China’s coal consumption has begun to slow.
– “Despite air pollution reductions, the overall health burden is expected to increase by 2030 as the population ages and becomes more susceptible to diseases most closely linked to air pollution.”
– Even under the most stringent policies on coal use and energy efficiency, coal is expected to remain the single biggest contributor to PM 2.5 and China’s health burden in 2030.
– Global Burden of Disease study examined deaths in 2013, which estimated that PM 2.5 contributed to 2.9 million premature deaths worldwide, with 64% of those in China. It estimated the number of premature deaths in China in 2013 related to PM 2.5 exposure at 916,000, out of a population of 1.4 billion.
– Researchers found that outdoor air pollution was the fifth leading cause of premature deaths in China, behind high blood pressure, smoking, high consumption of sodium and low consumption of fruit. Household air pollution was the sixth leading cause.
– In 2013, the OECD warned that “urban air pollution is set to become the top environmental cause of mortality worldwide by 2050, ahead of dirty water and lack of sanitation.” It said that as many as 3.6 million people could end up dying prematurely from air pollution each year, mostly in China and India.

Those issues were also covered in my book. Interesting updates… and scary…