The skies in Beijing yesterday may have been blue, but still the air quality was the second-worst out of 84 major cities across China.
Beijing's air pollution index (API) was 139, with only Lanzhou, capital of northwest China's Gansu Province, worse, at 142. On the list, which is released daily, 15 major cities including Shanghai had APIs higher than 100, which means the air is "slightly polluted."
Experts said that in such an environment, patients with heart and respiratory diseases should reduce outdoor activities.
In only seven cities was the API under 50, which means local citizens can breathe fresh air. They include Lhasa in the Tibet Autonomous Region, and Guilin in south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region
According to Zhang Lijun, vice-minister of the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), about one-fifth of urban citizens are living in seriously polluted environments.
If the API can be kept under 100, about 178,000 Chinese lives could be saved every year, he said, during the Forum of Strategic Approaches to Regional Air Quality Management in China, held yesterday in Beijing.
Although China has made some progress in air pollution control and the air quality has improved, the country still has tough tasks ahead, especially in the control of sulphur dioxide discharge.
It is expected that in 2020, the country's release of sulphur dioxide will reach 280 million tons, 160 million tons more than the environment can handle, according to SEPA statistics.
At the forum, Zhang also revealed a plan to blacklist cities that fail to reach the national air quality standard.
"The list will be announced regularly to warn cities of poor air quality," said Zhang.
Meanwhile, SEPA will strictly control construction of air polluting projects, he said.
Air pollution, including dust, smog, acid rain and suspended particles, is posing an increasingly dangerous threat to human health, said Zhang.
At the forum, representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency of the United States, Environmental Directorate of the European Commission and Italian Ministry for the Environment and Territory shared their experiences in air pollution control and how to improve air quality.
James Connaughton, chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality of the United States, said that improvement of air quality in China will contribute to the global effort in fighting air pollution.
(China Daily October 25, 2005)