Embassies 'break rules' on air-quality measurements

Updated: 2012-06-06 08:03

By Wu Wencong (China Daily)

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'Monitoring violates conventions and uses different standards'

Foreign embassies releasing their own air-quality readings are contravening international conventions, an official from the Ministry of Environmental Protection said on Tuesday.

"According to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, diplomats are duty-bound to respect the laws and regulations of their host countries and should not interfere in their domestic affairs," Wu Xiaoqing, vice-minister at the ministry, said at a news conference held by the State Council Information Office.

"The monitoring and release of information concerning China's air quality is of public interest and falls under government responsibility. Consequently, foreign embassies monitoring and releasing air-quality readings on the Internet do not conform to the two conventions and also violate regulations in China."

The US embassy in Beijing releases regular online airquality readings. These include readings for PM2.5, fine particles 2.5 microns or less in diameter.

On a number of occasions the embassy rated air quality in Beijing as "hazardous," while the city's environmental protection bureau classified pollution as "slight".

Article 41 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, states that "without prejudice to their privileges and immunities, it is the duty of all persons enjoying such privileges and immunities to respect the laws and regulations of the receiving State".

The convention also emphasized their duty not to interfere in the internal affairs of that country.

A US embassy spokesman said the air-quality reports were meant to inform US citizens living in the city.

"Technically speaking, the statistics you get from a single monitoring site should not be used to assess the air quality of a whole area," said Wu. "It surely does not represent the overall air quality of a city."

He also emphasized differences in evaluating figures.

"As you may have noticed, the daily average readings of PM2.5 in cities like Beijing and Shanghai, published by the local government, are similar to those posted by foreign embassies, but the discrepancy of the results after evaluation is usually marked. That's because they are using standards from their own country to measure air quality in our country, which is obviously unreasonable," Wu said.

He explained that standards used in some foreign countries are 35 micrograms per cubic meter, but China adopts 75 mcg per cu m as its standard.

Wu said he believes that environmental standards should be linked to the level of the country's economic development and technology.

"We set our target at 75 mcg per cu m after considering the standard given by the World Health Organization and the basic conditions of our country," he said. And standards change as countries develop, he added.

"The US set their target for PM2.5 at 65 mcg per cu m when they first issued the standard in 1997. It wasn't tightened to 35 mcg per cu m until 2006," Wu said.

Ma Jun, head of the Beijing-based Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, said he thinks the current target set for China is in accordance with the level of development.

"The most authoritative statistics come from the government, of course," Ma said.

He said he was glad to see the government's recent attitude on the PM2.5 monitoring issue.

Wu announced at the news conference that by the end of October, almost 500 monitoring sites in 74 cities will be required to test for PM2.5.

Daily average readings of PM2.5 at these cities will be announced to the public by the end of 2012.

At 8 am on Monday, Guangdong province started to release the real time statistics for PM2.5 from 62 monitoring sites in the Pearl River Delta region, the first real time data in the country, Wu said.