Air pollution data stirs debate over holiday fireworks

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Fewer fireworks have helped to decrease air pollution in some Chinese cities, but high readings of air pollutants have made many wonder if greater efforts need to be made.

An air quality index issued by municipal environmental authorities in Shanghai on Sunday showed a reading of 238 for PM2.5, or particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in diameter, indicating that the air was severely polluted.

In Beijing, the air quality was even worse, with the city's PM 2.5 density peaking at midnight to roughly 500 micrograms per cubic meter and subsequently easing to less than 300 micrograms per cubic meter.

Although the figure was dwarfed by last year's readings thanks to a mild north wind and the restrained use of fireworks, Beijing's environmental authorities has reported the clear negative impact of fireworks on air quality.

Zhang Dawei, director of the Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center, said the city's PM2.5 readings started going up around 5 p.m. Saturday, when people started going outdoors to set off fireworks for Lunar New Year's Eve.

In Nanjing, capital of east China's Jiangsu Province, local environmental authorities urged local residents to refrain from setting off fireworks Saturday night.

Nanjing's daytime PM2.5 density reading stood at 39 micrograms per cubic meters on Saturday, representing fairly clean air in comparison to most other cities.

Call For A Change

Real estate developer Pan Shiyi, a deputy to the Beijing Municipal People's Congress, or the local legislature, has proposed renewing a firework ban that was lifted eight years ago in order to ward off air pollution.

An official with the Beijing Office on Fireworks and Firecrackers said that the lifting of the firework ban was regulated by local statutes.

Public calls for a ban or tighter restrictions on the use of fireworks involve the amendment of laws, which requires approval from the local legislature, said the official.

Beijing resident Yang Bin has refused to set off any fireworks for the last 25 years. "Setting off fireworks pollutes the air and creates noise. I am against it, but not everybody agrees with me," said Yang.

Electronic fireworks have gained some popularity with Chinese who wish to celebrate the holiday but are hesitant to purchase traditional fireworks.

Statistics from, China's biggest e-commerce website, showed that the sales volume for electronic fireworks in the week before the festival went up by 271.3 percentcompared to the same period last year.

In the eyes of Shanghai sanitation worker Chen Daofu, however, the change was too trivial.

"From the trash, we can see that electronic fireworks are far from popular. The majority still favor traditional ones," said Chen.

Shanghai's municipal sanitation department reported that the amount of Lunar New Year's Eve firework refuse decreased to 700 tonnes this year from 970 tonnes in 2012 due to government calls to reduce the use of fireworks.

"It's not easy for people to make a change overnight. If people could set off less fireworks each year, the cleaning work would get easier and the air quality would be better," said Chen.

Deep-rooted Problems

Although many Chinese have discussed the problem posed by maintaining the custom of setting off fireworks in the face of air pollution problems, many others think more deep-rooted problems need to be tackled to reduce smog.

"The fireworks last only a dozen days, but the country has long been plagued by smog. Why should we change our traditions just because the government has failed to do its job during the rest of the year?" said Tian Zhaoyuan, a professor at East China Normal University.

Multiple Chinese cities were hit with dense smog in January. Beijing, for instance, had 23 smoggy days from Jan. 1 to 28, about 10 more than the annual average during the same period over the last 10 years and the most since 1954.

The average density of PM2.5 in January was 180 micrograms per cubic meter in Beijing, about 30 percent higher than that recorded during the same period from 2009 to 2011, according to meteorological data.

"If all the uncertified factories were shut down and fuel quality was improved to reduce emissions, the sky would be cleaner," Tian said.

Professor Xie Shaodong at the College of Environmental Sciences at Peking University said the smog can still serve a good purpose.

"If the public's environmental awareness can be aroused and people are willing to change their behavior for the sake of others, something good can be made out of a bad situation," he said.

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