BEIJING (Reuters) - China will introduce stricter air pollution standards from next year to monitor tiny floating pollution particles in Beijing and other big cities but may not start releasing the results to the public until 2016, state media said on Thursday.
Swathes of urban China from the capital in the north to Guangzhou in the far south have been shrouded in acrid smog for parts of the winter, forcing people to wear masks or even avoid stepping outside.
But in Beijing air pollution has officially been reported as "slight," although the United States' embassy, which issues its own measurement derived from U.S. standards, has at times shown air quality so poor it is off the scale.
One reason behind the different readings is that Chinese cities do not measure and disclose data on the smaller particles from smokestacks and exhaust pipes that float in the air.
Measuring 2.5 microns in diameter or less, they are known as PM 2.5.
Environment Minister Zhou Shengxian was quoted as saying in Communist Party mouthpiece the People's Daily that China will now start using the PM 2.5 standard, first in large cities and then nationally by 2015.
From January 1, 2016, all localities in China will have to provide these numbers to the public, the report said.
However, Zhou was reported as saying only that the results should start to be publicized "at an appropriate time."
The ministry declined to comment when contacted by Reuters.
"(We hope) the monitoring results can live up to people's expectations," Zhou was quoted as saying.
The staged introduction of the new standards is due to the preparation time needed for new equipment and personnel, Zhou was quoted as saying by the Beijing News.
Many Beijing residents have taken to the Internet to complain that official figures greatly underestimate the problem and that they only trust the U.S. embassy's readings.
China discloses readings only of pollutant particles that are 10 micrometers in diameter or larger. Doctors warn that the tiny floating PM 2.5 particles can settle in the lungs more easily and cause respiratory problems and other illnesses.
The level of air pollution in the capital varies, depending on winds.
But in recent weeks, a cocktail of smokestack emissions, vehicle exhaust, dust and aerosols have at times blanketed the city in a pungent, beige shroud for days on end, and has even forced the cancellation of flights.
(Reporting by Sally Huang and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Paul Tait)