Poison gas or…air pollution?


From our Beijing bureau, we have the following message from the U.S. embassy that was recently issued to U.S. citizens in China:

The Embassy has received reports from U.S. citizens living and traveling in Wuhan that the air quality in the city has been particularly poor since yesterday morning.  On June 11 at 16:20, the Wuhan Environmental Protection Administrative Bureau posted information about this on its website.  Below is a translation of that information:

“Beginning on June 11, 2012 around 08:00 AM, the air quality inside Wuhan appeared to worsen, with low visibility and burning smells. According to city air data, starting at 07:00 AM this morning, the density of the respiratory particulate matter increased in the air downtown; it increased quickly after 08:00 AM.  The density at 14:00 approached 0.574mg/m3, a level that is deemed “serious” by national standards.  An analysis of the air indicates the pollution is caused from burning of plant material northeast of Wuhan.

It’s not immediately clear which pollutant they’re talking about, but it’s probably PM10 (particulate matter less than 10 microns in aerodynamic diameter). If so, that level is quite high—U.S. 24-hour average standards are at 0.15 mg/m3 (note that the reported level was an hourly level). 

Our investigation of downtown’s districts, and based on reports from all of Wuhan’s large industrial enterprises, have determined that that there has not been any explosion, sewage release, leakage of any poisoning gas, or any other type of urgent environmental accident from large industrial enterprises.  Nor is there burning of crops in the new city area.  News spread online of a chlorine leak from Qingshan or a boiler explosion at Wuhan Iron and Steel Plant are rumors.

So, this is not some terrible incident, it’s just the usual smell. Good to know.

According to our investigation, the abnormal air quality in our city is mainly caused by the burning of the crops northeast of Wuhan towards Hubei province.  Similar air quality is occurring in Jiangsu, Henan and Anhui provinces, as well as in Xiaogan, Jingzhou, Jingmen and Xiantao, cities nearby Wuhan.

The weather forecast authority of the city has advised that recent weather conditions have not been good for the dispersion of pollutants.”

The embassy goes on to warn:

U.S. citizens are reminded that air pollution is a significant problem in many cities and regions in China.  Health effects are likely to be more severe for sensitive populations, including children and older adults.  While the quality of air can differ greatly between cities or between urban and rural areas, U.S. citizens living in or traveling to China may wish to consult their doctor when living in or prior to traveling to areas with significant air pollution.