A new analysis of air pollution data from five major Chinese cities revealed statistically significant differences between data from monitoring stations operated by local governments and data from stations operated by U.S. embassies and consulates. Jesse Turiel of Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government and Robert Kaufmann of Boston University present these results in the open access journal PLOS ONE April 21, 2021.
China has experienced poor air quality for several decades, and air pollution has been linked to significant increases in mortality and significant reductions in GDP for the country. In response, the Chinese central government has set local environmental performance targets. Air quality data is collected from local monitoring stations and local authorities report it to central government. Meanwhile, in some Chinese cities, US embassies and consulates operate their own monitoring stations.
For the new study, the researchers analyzed and compared measurements reported by monitoring stations controlled by local and U.S. embassies in five major Chinese cities. These data, which covered a period from January 2015 to June 2017, consisted of hourly measurements of the atmospheric concentration of fine particles called PM2.5 – a standard indicator of air quality.
The researchers identified times when local data temporarily diverged from US stations in statistically significant ways. They found that these discrepancies occurred more often and were larger than you might expect. Hourly differences were also more likely when the air quality was particularly poor. Taken together, the results suggest that when air pollution is high, local stations consistently report lower PM2.5 levels than reported by US stations.
The authors note that these findings add to existing concerns about the underreporting of air pollution by some local officials in China. In fact, they say, the general public and other observers are often skeptical of local data because some officials might be encouraged to underreport in order to avoid professional repercussions.
Still, the researchers stress the usefulness of local data on China’s air pollution and note that their study does not invalidate other findings that the country’s air quality has improved in recent years. .
The authors add, “Our work reveals that systemic local authorities underreport air pollution levels in four of the five Chinese cities tested. This suggests that between 2015 and 2017, some local authorities in China misreported air pollution. air quality data communicated to the center of the country. Ministry of the environment, especially on days of high pollution. “
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