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Testing pollution levels

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James Reynolds | 08:14 UK time, Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Two pictures, each taken this year from a block of flats in the centre of Beijing.

Two contrasting pictures of pollution in Beijing

The one on the left is what Beijing hopes you'll see when the Olympics begin in a month's time. The one on the right is what you'll see if its pollution control plans fail.

When it bid for the Games in 2001, Beijing promised the International Olympic Commission that its air would be normal: "Air and water quality is expected to be within World Health Organization standards at all venues, and in Beijing generally." (Report of the IOC Evaluation Commission for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad.)

Compare that promise with the warning issued by IOC president Jacques Rogge in August 2007: if the air is still bad during the Olympics, some endurance events might have to be postponed or delayed.

So, Beijing's air will be fundamental to the success or failure of this city's Games.

How serious is the problem? We've carried out our own investigation into Beijing's air quality. Let's break it down.

The location: we tested every day for seven days at a fixed point along Yonghegong avenue in the centre of Beijing. This is part of the route of the individual road race in the men's cycling - an important endurance event. We used a hand-held machine that has a 20% or so margin of error.

The pollutant: We tested for airborne particles known as PM10 - a source of much of this city's pollution. These particles come from traffic, factories, building sites, and occasional dust storms.

The standard: the World Health Organization's air quality guideline for PM10 is a maximum of 50 micrograms/cubic metre (averaged over a 24-hour mean). For more polluted cities, the WHO has set several interim targets, the most generous of which is a maximum of 150 micrograms/cubic metre.

The readings:

01/07/08 : 121 micrograms/cubic metre
02/07/08 : 172
03/07/08 : 122
04/07/08 : 351
05/07/08 : 112
06/07/08 : 27
07/07/08 : 242

The conclusion: One day lived up to the WHO's air quality guidelines.
Three days lived up to the WHO's more generous interim targets.
Three days were so polluted that they were outside even the WHO's most generous targets. The most polluted day - 4 July - was seven times worse than the WHO's air quality guidelines.

Comparison with London: It's worth comparing these readings with London - the city that hosts the Games after Beijing. PM10 readings taken during the last week by the London Air Quality Network in sites in East London (the site of the 2012 Games) were all within the WHO's air quality guidelines.

Our quick investigation shows that, with just one month to go, Beijing faces a real test if it's to live up to its Olympic promise of clean air.

The city's officials realise this. So they've decided to impose a series of emergency air quality measures. On 20 July half of Beijing's cars will come off the streets, building sites will stop work, and a number of factories will shut down. Even outdoor spray painting will be banned.

This gives 19 days for the dust and the airborne particles to settle before the first event is held.

If these measures don't work, the city says that it's prepared to take what it calls "more stringent measures" during the Olympics. But it doesn't say what these include.

"If I have to give it a simple answer then I'll say that we are confident we will fulfil our promise," says Du Shaozhong from the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau. "The World Health Organization has set out perameters. So according to these guidelines we can achieve the target. This is not a problem."

The IOC has told the BBC that it's watching to see what impact Beijing's plans will have.

A month from the Games, the task is clear: in order for the Beijing Games to be a success, this city's last-minute emergency air quality measures will have to work.

We're going to keep on testing the air in the run-up to the Games - to see how Beijing gets on with its clean-air promise.

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Every day from now till the games begin we'll take a PM10 reading in central Beijing. We'll also take pictures of the city's skyline so that you can see for yourself what the air's like. You can follow it all here on the site.

Please send in your photos as well - we'll try to feature as many as we can.

You can send pictures and video or text them to +44 7725 100 100. If you have a large file you can upload here. Click here to see terms and conditions.


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  • 1. At 10:36am on 08 Jul 2008, dav_lufc wrote:

    I hope you are taking an actual 24 hour mean (which would invlove several readings per day at regular intervals) as stipulated by the WHO and are not just taking one reading per day at a time of your choosing. Would hate to see the reputation of professional statisticians being made to look bad by shoddy journalist statistics as so often happens...

    Will be interesting to see the results- but get em done right!

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  • 2. At 10:36am on 08 Jul 2008, Jasreman wrote:

    James, do you consider the PM10 reading at different times during the day and average it out? You have mentioned that the device has a 20% margin of error (either way). On a particular day it is possible that all the readings fall on one side of the actual value and thus cause a grave error :)

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  • 3. At 10:44am on 08 Jul 2008, Rikey wrote:

    In deed, it is sad that Beijing failed to meet the required standard for the six out of seven days tested.

    It may still be hoped that it will.

    How much improvement Beijing has managed to bring in eversince then (2001)may also be considered. For it shows that how much Beijing has cared about the promise it has made. There is no doubt that Beijing has been doing its level best.

    Also, it should be made sure that the BBC's technology concerned (for testing) and the persons involved as well meet the required professional standard. There is no doubt that it really does.

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  • 4. At 10:49am on 08 Jul 2008, mattcopp wrote:

    Thanks James,
    This is better than most rough science from the BBC, but I think more information is needed to give useful results.

    Since we don't know whether the results were recorded at the same time of day how do we know the results are fair. If you took the result on the 6th at 4am, of course it's going to be better than on the 4th at 1pm. Are the results taken at the same time of day?

    Also it would be nice to see an explanation for why certain days are particularly better and worse. I could understand Sundays being better, but can you think of a reason why Friday is worse? Could it be that a lorry went past at that time? Or was the weather detremental?

    I understand this is rough science, but if the authorities stopped sending lorries down the road, or from now on the weather works in the authorities favour, that would quickly skew your results.

    I'm looking forward to seeing the progress.

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  • 5. At 10:50am on 08 Jul 2008, Nanium wrote:

    Send a photo and you will try to feature as many as you can? or you only feature the bad ones? It would be equally "suspicious" if Xinhua China carried out a air pollution test in London for a week and concluded that the air quality is bad with a few numbers and pictures. Many baseline factors could contribute to the potential inaccuracy of the report namely seasonal variance, time of the day, measurement devices and photoshops etc. I have certainly seen far more polluted photos of Beijing than clean ones recently from BBC and CNN, which in reality the air quality has improved dramatically over the past 3-4 years (if you have been to Beijing 4 years ago). I think BBC has long lost its credibility ever since your biased report on Tibet with the infamous photo quoted. If one was to measure the air quality, it would have to be a third party to avoid research bias. Oh well, you will swallow your own words once Olympic starts and people see with their own eyes. btw, what does Britain gain from antagonising China constantly anyway? Haven't you got enough enemies around the world for your arrogance? I wonder how many centuries it will take for the western media to report anything good about China?

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  • 6. At 11:08am on 08 Jul 2008, Einveldi wrote:

    I agree with the general sentiment that this is not the most scientific experiment ever conducted. Average readings would provide a much fairer measurement, over a 24 hour period as suggested above. Even having the detector sitting still would be a vast improvement. The pollution of cars in that street would greatly affect the readings during the short video. Needless to say, it’s not going to stand up to the scientific integrity of the London Air Quality Network’s vast array of scientific measurements. I’m not saying Beijing doesn’t have a pollution problem – I’m saying that poorly executed science is no way to prove that it does.

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  • 7. At 11:15am on 08 Jul 2008, U9746596 wrote:

    In all seriousness what does a 24 hour mean count for if the marathon is being run at the most polluted time of the day?

    The fact that the level is far higher than is acceptable during any time of the day is a worry.

    Rather than testing the mean there should be tests taken at regular intervals and the highest reading taken for that particular day.

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  • 8. At 11:20am on 08 Jul 2008, andfreedom wrote:

    Whether the air pollution targets are met or not you have to give the Chinese credit for taking some very drastic measures to ensure a successful Olympics; I certainlty cannot imagine the people of London ever accepting such intrusion into their daily lives. Congratulations China, whether or not you achieve it.

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  • 9. At 11:44am on 08 Jul 2008, mousehand1003 wrote:

    James, if I were you, I would try to the test around a place "supposed to be clean", instead of doing it by a construction site. This just undermines your point.

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  • 10. At 12:46pm on 08 Jul 2008, beefnoodle wrote:

    To ringsting-iom:

    The very point of having international standards is to allow fair and accurate comparison of measurements. Taking on-the-spot recordings would be utterly meaningless, as the WHO guidelines specifically allow for variation within a 24 hour period.

    If these results are to be taken as fact - and it already has been quoted in no less than two BBC articles) - then Mr. Reynolds must ensure that he abides by truly scientific standards. This would require (note: important word) transparent reporting of methodology, including the most important factors that could potentially influence the results, e.g. meteorological data, timing and local traffic. Only then can the results (and more significantly, his conclusions) be expected to undergo close scrutiny.

    May I also point out that if the WHO have set an interim cut-off point for 'more polluted cities', then you should actually follow those targets, rather than continually referring back to the more stringent target. We like to compare like with like you know! If the WHO have allowed a higher target, then there must be a reason!

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  • 11. At 12:48pm on 08 Jul 2008, johnxue wrote:


    In this morning's BBC TV News on Beijing's air, you took reading by a building under construction in Beijing; no doubt you got a poor reading.

    At 5pm last Wednesday, I was walking in Cardiff city centre, Bridge Street, where a new build was under construction, which produces too heavy dust in the air that people had to put a hand over their noses.

    There are blue sky days, as shown in your left picture, and bad days, the other. I think with the effort of Chinese, Beijing's sky will be better and better. But we should be realistic, do not expect it be as good as in cities by sea.

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  • 12. At 12:54pm on 08 Jul 2008, zickyyy wrote:

    I agree that Beijing's air quality is not as good as London's although it has been improved significantly during the last 8 years. I just hope this improvement can be done in every Chinese city.

    But to convince me that Beijing's air quality is 7 times poorer than WHO standard, you will have to show me more scientific evidence.

    Do the test in a proper way, James.

    Otherwise, you are fooling your own British people. Because few Chinese believe what you say.

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  • 13. At 1:40pm on 08 Jul 2008, Londonchrisinfrance wrote:

    James Reynolds maybe a journalist but, he is not going to make Science editor anytime soon.

    From the intial tone of this article the reader instantly knows that the journalist is going to make his foregone conclusion. The token testing in the middle of beiging is laughable and insulting to the reader. However this story is being highlighted as a key story on BBC World TV, the website etc.. etc. Its poor tabloid content under the guise of investigative journalism. The overall effect is that it devalues the BBC's credibility.
    Sensationlist drivel.

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  • 14. At 1:44pm on 08 Jul 2008, Flyingchumpino wrote:

    Nanium - are you chinese by any chance?

    No it's not high science but it doesn't need to be. Try blowinig your nose after a day walking around Beijing. Do the same after a day in London - your tissue will reveal all!

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  • 15. At 1:57pm on 08 Jul 2008, U9746596 wrote:


    How can you complain about BBC bias with no proof?

    It is ridiculous that you accuse the BBC of posting only the bad photos when it hasn't even happened yet.

    The BBC does write lots of good things about China, like the earthquake relief, what you fail to understand is that sometimes the Chinese government fails. And when it does unbiased news agencies like the BBC will write about it.

    Air quality is a very important issue with regards to the olympics and it is good to see someone going out and doing some (albeit not very scientific) tests.

    Why do you have this paranoia that the west is out to "get" China?

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  • 16. At 2:24pm on 08 Jul 2008, antimatterbomb wrote:

    351 on 04/07 and 27 on 06/07, that's a big variation. Ok the experiment may not be very accurate, but the fact that the 2nd figure was taken on a Sunday (which might have less trafic and industrial activity going on that day) means that if beijing gov takes drastic measures prior to the game begins plus there will be sufficient raining, they may be able to the the air quality up to the standard. Do cars in Beijing have those automotive pollution control devices installed? if not the gov should be thinking about getting them.

    Personally I'm pessimistic about the air quality in beijing but I think at least Du Shaozhong's 'confidence' is more scientifically based, much better than that guy saying the green algae in qingdao is just 'natrual occurance'! What's wrong with just admitting our own problem once for a while? Everyone knows developing country = not perfect. If we are not gonna takle the environment problem immidiately can we at least get a better PR advisor?

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  • 17. At 3:38pm on 08 Jul 2008, BSWarren wrote:

    Whilst I am in no doubt that pollution levels in Beijing are bad, I feel compelled to highlight the inaccuracies in your report. The PM10 limit of 50ug/m3 is as a 24 hour average, where there is relevant exposure. On the spot readings during congested periods are not really relevant to this limit. Also, if as stated, this is part of the cycling route, then presumably there will not be any cars on it during the race, therefore pollution levels will be considerably lower.

    Taking readings in the middle of a busy road would result in similarly high readings in London. In fact, stating that London meets the WHO objectives in totally untrue. For example, the Blackwall monitoring station in the East End of London has experienced over 40 24-hour exceedences in the first half of this year. 35 such exceedences are permitted under the UK Air Quality Strategy. So, there are also major pollution problems in London. Air quality is an increasingly important issue around the world. Reporting on it in such broad terms is not particularly helpful!

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  • 18. At 3:39pm on 08 Jul 2008, chankahon wrote:

    My friend in Beijing, who used to live in Hong Kong, says air in Beijing is not good and he was not amazed by BBC's test results (of course he learned about it only through IM message).

    I don't think testing air next to a construction site is a good idea, but the undeniable fact is air in a heavily polluted city cannot be improved instantly even all factories and traffic are banned for a month.

    But I think the officials are not particularly worried about that anyway--they are humans who can claim no one died on Tiananmen Square on 4 June 1989--air of Beijing could be cleaner than that in heaven, if you need an official answer.

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  • 19. At 3:40pm on 08 Jul 2008, ParticleBean wrote:

    Given a 24 hour city like Beijing, and the geographic scale of the place, diurnal variation may not be as wide as one would expect. Certainly concentrations of fine and ultrafine particles would tend to be highest during the day. This is when the endurance athletes most vulnerable to the effects of poor air quality will be exerting themselves. Continuous monitoring of ultrafine particles is being planned during the games.

    Ultrafine particles are now considered by EU CAFE to pose greater health risks than PM10 material and are even more closoely related to combustion aerosols formed when carbonaceous fuels are burned.

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  • 20. At 4:06pm on 08 Jul 2008, worldofharmony wrote:

    I went for the video link straight away. When I heard "margin of error of 20%", I burst out laughing! Come on James, I'm sure you have enough commonsense to take your own test seriously.

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  • 21. At 5:53pm on 08 Jul 2008, kcool56 wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 22. At 6:32pm on 08 Jul 2008, maggiehao wrote:

    As an experimentalist, several things one needs to keep in mind. One, before talking about taking averages over 24 hours, whose usefulness is doubtful as stated by a commenter above, one should still take a few consecutive measurements for each time period, remove the largest and small values and take the average of the remaining ones. This is important especially when you have a device with large error and your subject is not in steady state. Also when you have readings that are so different from the previous day (eg., 351, 27, and 242), you need even more to reconfirm them by remeasuring them.
    Next, if the values are trust worthy, one should try to find out what the causes for the abnormal values are. The number on Sunday (27) is especially interesting. Does that mean by doing something right, one can reproduce that result?

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  • 23. At 6:56pm on 08 Jul 2008, fangzhe2008 wrote:

    I am very sorry that BBC is publishing this story to demonize China again. To any trained scientist or engineer, the BBC result is meaningless, as it is purely opportunistic. The story is highly deceiving, as to the general public, the story looks extremely scientific.

    I don't often have access to the BBC World TV. But I happened to be in a hotel today and saw Reynolds reporting, right outside a construction site. I was flabbergasted!

    As to the photos, doesn’t the foggy one resemble London’s grey sky when it is raining there?

    What kind of credibility does the BBC hope to gain by releasing this kind of irresponsible reporting? Why cannot BBC balance the report by mentioning China's good intentions and the tremendous effort that it has been making to curb pollution?

    But of course, doing so does not generate any sensation. And there has to be something wrong when it comes to reporting on China.

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  • 24. At 7:03pm on 08 Jul 2008, peace_4_all wrote:

    Why does it need to be averaged out? Its obvious he has taken the test during the day and the events take place during the day. There is no event at night (hope not). Its not only the environment that the Chinese communist regime has failed, but it has also failed in respect to human rights issue. The media also does not have the complete freedom to report - many foreign media are frustrated with the whole arrangement. Any sane person would know the Chinese communist regime is uncomfortable, they are hiding something and they are afraid.

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  • 25. At 7:10pm on 08 Jul 2008, TP_FAN wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 26. At 7:12pm on 08 Jul 2008, peace_4_all wrote:

    nanium - how on earth can you compare BBC with Xinhua?
    Xinhua is the official mouthpiece of the Chinese communist regime. It only reports what the government wants it to report. If you challenge it, you will be charged with subversion. If any other news media challenges the government, the reporter or editor will be fired and charged as happened numerous times.
    I'm not saying BBC is the perfect media. I'm sure there are biases, I'm sure there are mistakes it has made. But people can criticize and make suggestions. People can challenge its reporting and NOT get arrested. That's how we become better, that's how people gain confidence.

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  • 27. At 8:12pm on 08 Jul 2008, LiangSKY wrote:

    As a 23-years Beijinger I can tell this report is not exaggerating anything more than reality.

    The reason is that no meter is really necessary to tell Beijing has bitter enviroment. Just live there a month and count the good days with your fingers. Big possibility that one hand is enough for the job.

    There seemed a culture to bash James on the negative report of China. But guys, China won't improve if people have no way to know what is happening.

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  • 28. At 8:16pm on 08 Jul 2008, Alex Banks wrote:

    Lonelyplanet's guide book to China states breathing in Beijing air is equivalent to smoking over 70 cigarettes a day. Having been there last November, I can well believe it, it is dreadful. It'll be interesting to see how the emergency measures work, but I will be betting against any outdoor endurance records being broken.

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  • 29. At 10:47pm on 08 Jul 2008, marvellousReynolds wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 30. At 10:48pm on 08 Jul 2008, dennisjunior1 wrote:

    i hope that china can passed the test in time for the olympics in august...

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  • 31. At 00:49am on 09 Jul 2008, HongkongObserver wrote:

    The real issue isn't that the air is--and will continue to be--bad. It's who is going to measure the quality. According to this morning's South China Morning Post, the responsibility for measuring the air quality falls to the Beijing government (the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau)--and yesterday, their reading of the PM10 in the air was "98"...which they rate as "slightly polluted to fair". However, the WHO standard for safe air is "50". So, regardless of how the anti-pollution measures work out, one can be sure of "fair skies" in Beijing for the Olympics...even if you can't see across the street.

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  • 32. At 00:53am on 09 Jul 2008, pavlov1849 wrote:

    i live in beijing and the in recent days the 'haze' has been improving. this is without the final measures of stopping cars and stopping factories, which are due soon

    which city do you live in james, because there was no mention of the recent improvements in the air in your report ???

    james, i look forward to a report from you that has something POSITIVE to say, rather then the obtuse negativity and inferred criticism

    any chance, james ??

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  • 33. At 01:13am on 09 Jul 2008, nonfamiliar wrote:

    A good friend of mine is keeping a beijing smog blog that gives you a pretty good indication of how changable the air quality is in beijing.


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  • 34. At 01:21am on 09 Jul 2008, MarcusAureliusII wrote:

    Just in case nobody else points it out, Europe committed to an 8% reduction of CO2 output below its 1990 levels under the Kyoto Protocol it signed. It will miss that targets by over 90% yet it demands that the US sign an agrement to reduce CO2 emissions by half by 2050. We'll see just how far Europe goes this time in meeting its own committments. The leaders of the EU who drive some of the highest CO2 producing personal vehicles in the world when confronted with this fact 2 years ago told the public and the press that it was none of their business what they did in their personal lives.

    It seems to me like BBC is looking for every possible excuse to criticize China just the way it looks for every possible way to criticize the US. Like the rest of Europe, it is jealous of societies that have left it behind.

    The IOC was playing politics when it awarded the games to China. Now it will have to live with that decision. Had it been anything less than corrupt, it would have told China to clean up its air before it was considered as an applicant. It's a little late for second guessing this now. Besides the entire Olympic movement is a farce anyway. These aren't even amateur athletes in the sense they once were and it all boils down to whose pharmacists can cook up the most undetectable steroids.

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  • 35. At 01:49am on 09 Jul 2008, IanRats wrote:

    Interestingly, the Sunday reading was within WHO limits, so if it's like that on the one day of rest, then maybe things will be OK?

    Shame the population have to contend with this level of pollution at all other times though.

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  • 36. At 02:49am on 09 Jul 2008, John Holden-Peters wrote:

    What a strange debate. The basic points seem to be that:

    1. the BBC is biased against China and seeks to place it in a bad light:
    2. the BBC therefore carries out unscientific tests of the levels of pollution in Beijing which show conditions that would not be welcome to athletes competing in the Olympics as they seem to be unsafe;
    3. nevertheless, even assuming there is a real problem, the Chinese authorities are doing their level best to overcome it;
    4.if and when all else fails, from about a week before the Olympics start until they conclude, all industrial and construction activities in the area will be closed down and vehicular traffic prohibited to a greater or lesser extent, all "by order" and without any debate.

    So, what's the problem? None at all, unless, of course, it doesn't work and pollution refuses to go away for the term of the Olympics and, just like the BBC, seems to want China to be seen in a bad light.

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  • 37. At 04:06am on 09 Jul 2008, aeroarchie wrote:

    james reynolds had already reported on bbc news using the highest reading of 351 as his 'evidence' of Beijing's bad air quality. For that I award him a gold medal for selective-truth reporting. With such 'journalistic' credentials, of course he'd choose to ignore the IOC's latest statement that Beijing has set a gold standard for future Olympics.

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  • 38. At 04:45am on 09 Jul 2008, hizento wrote:

    Once again James is being a sensationalist in his reporting. Even in his own test on the 6/7/08 which is sunday the reading gave 27 microgram per cubic metre about half of WHO limit. Clean air was achieved on a rest day plus other measures will be brought in to stop cars and building work will clear the air within days. James trust what the expert say dont jump into conclusion about things you dont understand.

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  • 39. At 08:00am on 09 Jul 2008, hmobeijing wrote:

    I too agree with most of the comments expressing concern about scientific validity of this test, not least after seeing data being taken beside a building site on a busy road - hardly representative of what the athletes will be competing in. Posturing with your hand-held device doesn't add scientific weight to your argument I'm afraid. Neither is it necessary ...

    You only need to look out of the window to see how truly horrid the air quality can be here at times. However, you do have to give credit to the Chinese for actually trying to do something about it, and I have no doubt that by August, we'll be enjoying clear, blue sunny skies for the most part. Any criticisms (of which there are many ... I've yet to see a positive story about China going out to the West) seems to be little more than China-bashing.

    As a resident of this city, however, I'm more worried about what'll happen when the circus moves out of town after September. Once the Olympics are over, I'm more than certain that construction companies will once more have free reign to continue the 24-hour construction and development of Beijing. This is more of a concern because at least with the Olympics on the way, the Chinese government have to be seen to be doing something, and something most certainly will be done to clear the air. Once the games are over, and the foreign correspondents have left, I can't imagine there being the same amount of concern expressed.

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  • 40. At 08:23am on 09 Jul 2008, Ninghaishang wrote:

    I have been in Beijing 3 times and every time I saw blue sky.

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  • 41. At 11:08am on 09 Jul 2008, U9563463 wrote:

    So it would seem that Beijing has met the provisional targets on four of the seven days and got a very good reading on one day.

    You also need to take into account how much the levels may well drop when cars and factories are not polluting for the duration of the games.

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  • 42. At 11:40am on 09 Jul 2008, changen wrote:

    Please let us back to the topic, my friends. I don't think it is good idea to take a test just in the worst place and at tht worst time of the day. So far as I concern when I am in Beijing, I seldom saw such smoggy air. As we know, Beijing is much bigger and crowded than London, so it is really hard to deal the bad air condition. I am so confused with why western media always overstate the bad things of China, but ignore the goods?

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  • 43. At 1:34pm on 09 Jul 2008, giggletim wrote:

    thanks for finding the what must be the dirtiest and most polluted part of beijing for testing out your device.

    thanks for finding the busiest time in the day for testing out your device.

    Beijing is nearly six times the size of london, and the olympics will not cover the whole city.

    So go do your test around the olympic site and the tiananmen area where the marathon will take place.

    Also do your test at different times of the day, matching them to when the events will take place.

    I don't think any hosting city was ever fully clean over the history of the olympics.

    I don't understand the BBC's motives on this .
    Honestly, just give up on putting mud on China's image, and fight your own jealousy.

    It is clearly going to be the most successful games EVER hosted in HISTORY. And it's China that hosted it!

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  • 44. At 1:52pm on 09 Jul 2008, Cantab wrote:

    Actually, James is right.

    It doesn't matter if it's a mean or not, since we are not after how good or bad the environment is in general over 24 hours. Atheletes are concerned about:

    The WORST pollution value during competition hours.

    James took his measurements at the route of major endurence events and if it is that bad, then it is that bad. Atheletes don't run at night or early mornings, so there is no point taking Averages.

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  • 45. At 4:41pm on 09 Jul 2008, churchgore wrote:


    1. The Chinese regime is hardly communistic. Please update your concept.

    2. The Chinese majority supports the regime. Why, because it improves their lives. Westerners must understand what Human Rights really are. The freedom to yell in the street is absolutely nonessential to Human Rights.

    3. Some foreign media persistently upsets the Chinese people. They are persistently negative about China. We don’t need haters to report about us. If you want to create hatred, go back to your home nation.

    4. Western nations imprisoned many dissidents, Mummia, Al-tammi to name just a few. Based on your way of judging, I can say everyone in Guantanamo bay and European immigration (concentration) camps are political prisoners.

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  • 46. At 5:07pm on 09 Jul 2008, johnxue wrote:

    Located inside northern Asia continent, Beijing is at larger risk of dust storm than cities by sea or those inside of European continent, which is rich of rainfall.

    The area of green land and number of trees in Beijing have been increased significantly in recent years; the vehicle quality is much better than before.

    James, it should be a professional to measure the air quality, not you, because you are unable to tell the detail portions of the 'pollutants'. They could be mainly dusts from west wind, not from traffic or industry.

    Also you took reading by a construction site, there is no surprise for a poor reading.

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  • 47. At 00:08am on 10 Jul 2008, MarcusAureliusII wrote:

    London sometimes looks the same way as the picture on the right. Only they call it fog.

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  • 48. At 00:27am on 10 Jul 2008, Nanium wrote:

    Ringsting-iom and flying chumpino,
    To answer your questions, having born in beijing and been to london quite a few times, I guess I have quite a good idea in terms of the comparison of the two. In terms of the evidence, I don't know whether you have read the reports on tibet and the photo of an ambulance being labelled as "chinese policeman trying to capture activist into the car" and btw, where were the chinese supporters during torch relay on BBC? coz im quite sure that the number was bigger than that of free tibet group yet most coverage was focused upon the tibetans, and the list goes on... You don't think its biased simply because you cannot read news in another language.

    In terms of the air quality, talking about respiratory infection with the personal experiences is absolutely meaningless. If you want to argue, then do a proper randomised controlled trial on respiratory infection incidence b/w the two cities. If there's no scientific evidence, then don't talk. Too often, those never been to China, like you guys, examine this country from a cross-sectional aspect, getting a snapshot from the western media and make up your judgement. Yet, few observe its development in a dynamic way.

    The bottomline is, a journalist is responsible for a fair and objective coverage on a particular matter, NOT a primary school investigation and foolish conclusion

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  • 49. At 00:28am on 10 Jul 2008, jampa wrote:

    There is no space of boasting could be done by Chinese govt on stopping 40 factories in nearby Beijing temporarily to curb the air pollution as Olympic come nearby. They should have stopped it permanently even before some years because they have promised to do it and improve Human Right to IOC body when Olympic game is awarded. They have to committed to their promise.

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  • 50. At 00:43am on 10 Jul 2008, Nanium wrote:

    u have a typical british "I'm the best" ideology which Im not surprised. I hate Xinhua just as much as you do, but it doesn't mean that all of its reports are fabricated (except I can read Chinese and u can't). Medically, we identify people like you as "splitting" - making world into black and white. I don't see why people cannot compare different media in your so called "free speech" Britain? I wonder, any of your perspectives actually from real life experience or just all from your local media? If latter, then no point wasting my time discussing things you only see on TV. I'm sorry if the comment torched your royal nerve.

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  • 51. At 01:54am on 10 Jul 2008, leeboi75 wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 52. At 03:50am on 10 Jul 2008, John Holden-Peters wrote:

    And so the absurd debate between BBC-bashers and China-bashers goes on. I think I know which side I am on.

    If all goes well, the inhabitants of Beijing will enjoy a month of relative freedom from pollution. After the Olympics are over and the gaze of the world media is focused elsewhere, Beijing will continue to be one of the most polluted cities in the world and woe betide anyone who complains about it!

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  • 53. At 05:03am on 10 Jul 2008, xcskier wrote:

    Several readers have offered reasons why the values reported by the author should or should not be related to WHO health guidelines. It is correctly pointed out that the guidelines are for 24 hour observation periods so the brief readings should not be compared to health guidelined. This is a vital point. Further, ambient air monitoring stations are sited to represent community exposures and the middle of a busy roadway would not be acceptable for such uses.
    The fundamental problem with this piece is that the DustTrack reports values in ug/m3 (just like the US standards or WHO guidelines) that are quite different than reference methods employed in the US, Europe or Asia. It is pointless to argue that the values represent safe or unsafe air because the methods are not remotely equivilent.
    I would like to see data from methods that are of regulatory quality. Then I would have something to compare to health guidelines! This data is really not available in Beijing.

    I applaud the author's efforts, but it is essential to do one's homework on air monitoring before attempting this kind of work!

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  • 54. At 12:07pm on 10 Jul 2008, MarcusAureliusII wrote:

    Malthaus was right. One way or another the population of the world will go down. With nucleear war unthinkable, modern medicine and modern agriculture, extending lifespan, one way or another we will be done in by overconsumption of the earths resources and the byproducts of using them. Failure to take planned steps to reduce population will result in unplanned consequences. And they may be on a vasst scale and manifest themselves suddenly even in surprising ways we don't know about yet. causing great pain and hardship but they cannot be evaded. I have yet to hear even one so called "friend of the earth" talk about population reduction.

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  • 55. At 6:24pm on 10 Jul 2008, peace_4_all wrote:

    I'm not British, I'm a Tibetan, studied and live in US. I'm not sure how you come to that conclusion about "I'm the best" ideology. I gave clear reasons why these 2 media cannot be compared. As far as perspectives, I'll take your comments about you hating the Xinhua news, I can understand why you and the billion Chinese would hate it. There is just no room for criticism. Of course not everything Xinhua says would be fabricated; common sense tells me that they would become the biggest joke. But the fact is they cannot be challenged, they cannot be criticized. And it reports what the government wants it to, a government that imposes its rules upon its own people, a government that murdered its own citizens including students in Tianenman square massacre and then completely rewrite the history that no student in that university knows what happened those few days from june 4, 1989.

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  • 56. At 8:48pm on 10 Jul 2008, SilencedBuddhist wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 57. At 10:26pm on 10 Jul 2008, cyndiyu wrote:

    I just happen to find out your office is not far from one cnn reporter's home . the picture tells.

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  • 58. At 00:04am on 11 Jul 2008, peace_4_all wrote:

    Post 27 (a beijing resident) makes a good point - its true. Chinese folks on this forum should not be offended with the report. On the other hand, they should look into how to improve upon it.

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  • 59. At 08:57am on 11 Jul 2008, super_burger wrote:

    james - you clearly have no training or background as a scientist.

    Imagine if you roped in some professional environemental scientists with no journalistic background and asked them to report on, say, chinese politics. Imagine the has they'd most likely make of it. That's how bad your scientific methodology is.

    I can't believe the BBC wasted money hosting this drivel on their servers.

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  • 60. At 4:25pm on 11 Jul 2008, aeroarchie wrote:


    You said you live in the US, how would you know that billion of Chinese hated Xinhua news and that they can't be challenged/criticized? What scientific equipment did you use to come to that conclusion? Television?

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  • 61. At 5:15pm on 11 Jul 2008, Ayush wrote:

    china is a growing power. and chinese have every reason to be proud. but they have grown so proud that they are blind.
    pollution - no matter what time of the day, needs to be tackled. how can marathon runners pass through those streets and perform well. some one will be more alergic to this chemical than another, and that will unfairly spoil his chances.
    as organizers china should facilitate and arrange best settings for the athlets to perform. so my chinese brothers, accept reality.
    same denying attitude for mine collapse, quake unresistant buildings ..and so many mediocre things unsuited for a growing power - needs to be changed

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  • 62. At 6:36pm on 11 Jul 2008, gpitinc wrote:


    Unfortunately (or fortunately) your credibility is questioned again by the public.

    Measurement is a complex, unemotional, political neutral science; and it is not driven by wishful wishes. Hopefully you can disclose your methodology of measurements to help dispel the puzzles from many of your readers.

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  • 63. At 09:47am on 12 Jul 2008, Sarah wrote:

    This is ridiculous. I don't expect a BBC journalist to be a scientific expert, or have huge depth of knowledge in every specialised area - but surely the basic principles of doing a fair test and ensuring you compare like-with-like are things that every intelligent adult understands. I remember learning about this in primary school! To disregard these things shows either extreme ignorance, or an attempt to deceive.

    I don't think James Reynolds is necessarily pursuing a sinister politial agenda, just that he decided his conclusion before hand, then did some half-baked 'experiment' designed to support that conclusion, presumably with the intention of making it sound all 'scientific'. Nice to see everyone jump on it though. We demand higher standards of journalism than that!

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  • 64. At 3:00pm on 13 Jul 2008, MarcusAureliusII wrote:

    The irony of world events never fails to amuse me. The reason the air in Chinese cities is so polluted and the air in British cities is so clean is....that the factories and jobs which pollute the air have moved from Britain to China. Perhaps Brits bashing China is just anger over having lost so many jobs to the Chinese. Of course the Chinese shouldn't feel too smug about it. The reason they moved is because not only do Chinese work for slave wages by British standards but their government does not force the owners of the plants to install expensive equipment which prevents pollution from being emitted into the air or strict safety standards that protect British workers.

    But had someone been around say about 140 years or so ago in Britain when it was first industrializing, the air and water there would have been just as polluted in its own way and looked just as bad as China's does today. Same in American cities like Pittsburgh about 20 or so years later.

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  • 65. At 02:42am on 14 Jul 2008, theimperialone wrote:

    Aren't we all missing the point a little - not least the organizers of the games and the Chinese authorities - surely the objective is to provide a lasting legacy from the games.

    The measures planned by the Beijing authorities appear to be draconian and unsustainable.

    We (as represented by the WHO) really ought to be calling for a sustained increase in air quality for the people of China.


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  • 66. At 2:53pm on 14 Jul 2008, i_amjohnblack wrote:

    I've read the bbc website for many many years, and only the shoddiness of this article has moved me to register an account. Could someone please have James print a retraction, or at least a footnote at the end of the blog piece to acknowledge the more than questionable procedure. A first year science student would be failed for less.

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  • 67. At 6:05pm on 14 Jul 2008, bobchemist wrote:

    Why is the BBC continuing to use this misleading data.

    In the report above, the story states that the levels are tested for 10 minutes everyday and then later on the vice president of the British Lung foundation is quoted as saying:

    "it was important to measure air pollution over 24 hours because it can be affected by rush hour traffic or weather conditions"

    and then:

    "But if the 24-hour average for PM10 is 100 or 150, it is unacceptably high and it would be highly undesirable for people to be doing marathons with that level of pollution."

    So the BBC obviously realise that the data is not being collected properly and are still spinning the story about bad air pollution.

    If you know you are doing sonething wrong, then do it right instead of writing stories based on bad figures. It is misleading, lazy and leads people into thinking you have some kind of political hate agenda.

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  • 68. At 11:33pm on 04 Aug 2008, jwspecial wrote:

    Why all the interest in Beijing's air quality, it's human rights and it's other "inconveniences" that exist in any other large city?
    Wasn't this city approved for these activities years ago by the IOC? Isn't their job to make sure that certain criteria are met before allowing the Olympics to take place there. If Beijing has been approved, than these existing conditions must have been deemed acceptable by some one. Who is that person? Amazingly, you will never find that name, because the only thing that really matters is merchandising and market share. A week after the Olympics is over, no one will care about the air that the people there must go back to breathing.
    Bet on it!!

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