US Embassy in Beijing Twitters Pollution Levels

By Sadie Bass

Jun 30, 2009 9:13am

ABC's Beth Loyd reports from Beijing: The United States embassy here has installed its very own air quality monitor and has been releasing reports to its staff.  And now, on a Twitter feed called “BeijingAir” anyone can check the air quality in Beijing, updated every hour.  And not surprisingly, the levels differ quite significantly from those released by the Chinese government.  The state-run English language China Daily reported the story today on the front page.  China Daily says that from 1am to 2pm yesterday, the embassy monitoring station listed the air quality as “unhealthy,” while Beijing’s EPA said the average reading in the district where the embassy is located was “moderate.”  And on June 18, when the air was a soupy fog, Beijing reported the pollution levels as “slightly polluted,” while the embassy’s “BeijingAir” Twitter feed reported the reading as in the “hazardous” range for seven hours.    The embassy is monitoring the levels itself out of concern for its staff.  “This monitor is a resource for the health of the Embassy community,” embassy spokesperson Susan Stevenson told ABC News.  “Citywide analysis cannot be done, however, on data from a single machine.” Also, the embassy machine is based on the United States’ EPA standards.  In America, the EPA measures particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter (PM 2.5) that get into lungs and the bloodstream, while China measures particles less than 10 micrometers (PM 10).  “PM 25 are referred to as ‘fine’ particles and are believed to pose the largest health risks,” Stevenson told ABC News.  The system allows the embassy “to compare against U.S. standard measures.” The bigger particles are, for the most part, less dangerous because they can usually be expelled from the body by coughing.  Stevenson says since the US embassy has the data, they decided to share it with the wider American community here in Beijing and Twitter is “the most efficient way of delivering the information automatically.” 

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