“Secret” air purifiers cause ruckus in China

Air purifiers are making headlines in Beijing this week and top Communist Party leaders aren’t happy about it. While everyday citizens of China’s capital city are wheezing and worrying about lung cancer as a result of the city’s notorious air pollution, government officials have been denying the problem even exists. Then this week bloggers and news organizations such as the South China Morning Post caught wind of the fact that top government officials who live in the government compound called Zhongnanhai have secretly installed more than 200 air purifiers. They have, as a result, “been enjoying a special supply of clean air for years,” according to a Morning Post reporter in Beijing.

The company that secretly supplied the air purifiers to party officials hasn’t helped matters much, either. “It is a blessing for the people that our (air) purifiers have created a healthy and clean environment for state leaders,” the mainland-China based company said on its website. The revelation, however, has turned out to be an embarrassment for the authorities, who claim that the pollution problem is Beijing is being deliberately overstated by Westerners.

Beijing is considered by the World Health Organization to be one of the dirtiest major cities in the world, in terms of air quality. The U.S. Embassy there has an air quality monitoring station atop the embassy that monitors particulate matter, ozone and other pollutants in the air. The embassy makes the data available to AIRNow.org, an organization established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), local air quality management agencies and other groups to provide the public, mostly in the U.S., with easy access to air quality information. AIRNow maintains aTwitter site that continuously monitors Beijing air qualityand publishes the latest data every hour, including pollutant concentration levels and Air Quality Index ratings. The Chinese government disputes the accuracy of the U.S. data, which is consistently and significantly much higher than data reported by Chinese authorities.

As an example, the PM2.5 concentration level during evening rush hour Thursday in Beijing measured 143, which is at the high end of the “Unhealthy” air quality category. The embassy monitoring station results are published hourly on a Twitter site maintained by AIRNow. Chinese officials, meanwhile, continue to classify the pollution levels as “slight” and have been publishing their own results, which are much lower. The Chinese social network known as “Weibo” is sharing the U.S. Embassy air quality data with the populace.

Meanwhile, the company that produces the air purifiers for the government also plans to begin marketing a cell phone with built-in air pollution monitoring equipment. Though the government hasn’t approved the device, a spokesperson for the company told smartplanet.com the company plans to move forward with marketing the device which would allow Beijing residents to take their own air quality readings.

The dirty Beijing air prompted the U.S. Olympic Committee in 2008 to place IQAir high-efficiency air purifiers in the rooms of athletes bedrooms at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. In addition, large facility-sized air purifiers from IQAir were installed in training areas.

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