BEIJING (Reuters) - China plans to release hourly air pollution monitoring data in 74 of its biggest cities starting on New Year's Day, state media said on Sunday, in a sign of increasing responsiveness to quality-of-life concerns among prosperous urban people.
Choking pollution and murky grey skies in Chinese cities is a top gripe among both Chinese and expatriates.
Microscopic pollutant particles in the air have killed about 8,600 people prematurely this year and cost $1 billion in economic losses in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Xi'an, according to a study by Beijing University and Greenpeace that measured the pollutant levels of PM2.5, or particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter.
The new monitoring will include not only PM2.5, but also sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone and carbon monoxide, the Xinhua news agency said, citing a Friday announcement by the Ministry of Environmental Protection.
Data will be collected from 496 monitoring stations, it said.
First Beijing, then other cities have become more public about their air quality data since the U.S. embassy in Beijing began publishing hourly data from a pollution monitor installed on embassy grounds in Beijing.
The embassy's monitor often diverged with official air quality readings, adding to public pressure for the city to come clean about the state of its air.
The United States has extended its monitoring program to its consulates in China.
Sunday was a clear and sunny winter day in Beijing, with the levels of ozone and PM2.5 declared "moderate" or "good", according to embassy data. The Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center (www.bjmemc.com.cn) rated PM10 concentrations as "excellent".
Many Chinese cities have removed belching smokestacks and coal-burning factories from their centers in the past few years, but a rise in the number of cars during the same period has created new air quality problems.
(Reporting By Lucy Hornby; Editing by Robert Birsel)