One Way to Handle Smog: Lower the Standards
December 16, 2013
On seven of the first nine days of December, the air quality in Shanghai was so poor that the city warned children and the elderly to stay indoors. Flights and sporting events were canceled and stores sold out of face masks. Photographs of smog obscuring the Shanghai skyline circulated on the Internet. The pollution was even visible from space.
Then last Thursday the Shanghai environmental protection bureau announced it would take action to reduce the number of warnings — not by lowering pollution levels, but by lowering safety standards.
Air quality is measured according to the concentration of particulate matter per cubic meter. The World Health Organization recommends not exceeding 25 micrograms. Shanghai used to set its benchmark for triggering alerts far above that, at 75 micrograms, and has now lifted that to 115 micrograms. Even under the laxer standard, Shanghai would have had to issue warnings: The air quality index was at 238 on Dec. 8 and reached a record 482 on Dec. 6 — or 19 times higher than the W.H.O. recommendation.
The environmental bureau’s move was so cynical that even the state-owned China Daily called it “a reluctant tacit acknowledgment of the city’s poor air quality.” Naturally, the paper also voiced the official justification that “the original standard is too strict, given that haze is common in the Yangtze River Delta region in winter.”
It makes no sense, or at least no good sense, to base alerts on what’s usual rather than what’s safe—but that’s exactly what the bureau’s doing. China Daily added that the city would likely “revert to the original standard to lift sever-pollution warnings in summer, when air quality is better.”
空氣質量是根據每立方米的顆粒物濃度來測定的。世界衛生組 織(World Health Organization)的建議是每立方米不超過25微克，遠遠低於上海的警報觸發標準75微克，而這個標準現在已經提高到了115微克。即使是在這樣 寬鬆的標準下，上海也不得不發出警告：12月8日，空氣質量指數為238，12月6日達到了創紀錄的482——比世界衛生組織的建議值高出19倍。
把「常見與否」而不是「安全與否」作為設立警報的依據顯得毫無道理，至少沒什麼像樣的道理，但上海環保局就是這麼做的。《中國日報》表示，到了夏天，空氣質量比較好的時候，上海有可能「把嚴重污染警報的標準恢復到原有水平」。朱麗葉·拉皮多斯(Juliet Lapidos)是《紐約時報》編委會(editorial board)編輯。