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Chinese authorities have been aggressively trying to tackle the problem of poor air quality in some of their major metropolitan areas.
The challenge is expansive, Chinese environmentalists have acknowledged.
Two weeks ago, the city of Lanzhou in northwestern China imposed a two-month vehicles restriction for fear of an air quality index which exceeds 100 while the PM2.5 concentration exceeds 75 micrograms per cubic metre.
An air quality index above 100 is considered unhealthy to sensitive persons, or those with breathing problems, such as asthma. Going over an index of 300 is hazardous, says the World Health Organisation.
US Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, who will visit Beijing, Shanghai and other cities, agrees that the challenge is enormous but says reliable data on air quality is one utility to help Chinese authorities draft effective policies.
“While I am all too well aware of the severe air quality challenges that China now faces, I see these challenges as ones where the United States can truly speak from experience in support of China’s efforts to reduce air pollution,” McCarthy recently said.
Addressing an audience at the Centre for American Progress on Monday, McCarthy said: “There are good things we can do together … One of the reasons I am hopeful is that I know what we have been able to accomplish in the United States.”
McCarthy’s visit comes in light of an agreement between China and the US in April to jointly reduce the production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), the type of gases used as coolants in refrigerators and air conditioners.
The cooperation between the two strongest economies in the world could impact what measures cities enact in their air pollution fight and what legislation is passed to reduce harmful toxins from the air.
For example, in mid-October, officials in Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang province, were forced to shut down schools and major highways because visibility was near zero.
According to statistics reported by local officials, Harbin’s air quality index (AQI) was at least 20 times higher than the WHO levels deemed safe for humans.
Beijing earlier this year allocated nearly half a billion US dollars to fund anti-pollution initiatives.