Air quality in Shanghai has been the number one health concern for Shanghai expats for several years. In 2016, however, the issue was forgotten at times as we enjoyed more clear skies.
The annual average density of PM2.5 in Shanghai in 2016 came in at 45ug/m3, a considerable 15% decrease from 2015.
This article looks at the reasons behind the improvement in air quality in Shanghai in 2016, but also cautions why we need to stay vigilant against Shanghai smog.
While we can’t really call the above data ‘a breath of fresh air’ it certainly indicates a welcome improvement.
Based on national and international air quality standards, however, the annual average PM2.5 concentration in Shanghai in 2016 was still harmful to our health.
Below are the air quality standards for China, the WHO and the USA.
The annual average PM2.5 concentration:
The daily average PM2.5 concentration:
One of the reasons for the improvement in air quality in Shanghai in the summer months of 2016 was the implementation of measures by the authorities in preparation for the G20 summit in nearby Hangzhou in early September.
Shanghai suspended the operation of a number of chemical plants and other high polluting enterprises to ensure world leaders enjoyed blue skies; what became known as the ‘G20 Blue’.
The weather in Shanghai in 2016 also was a key factor leading to improved air quality for the first three quarters.
During the first quarter Shanghai enjoyed more rain than in the same period of 2015. And during the second quarter Shanghai had more wind from gales and typhoons than usual.
Lower temperatures in the winter can force some cities in the North to turn on their centralized municipal heating systems earlier than usual. These systems, powered by coal, cause large amounts of air pollution, some of which will find its way down to Shanghai as the winds shift to the South in winter months.
Plans are underway for replacing coal-fired systems with cleaner natural gas systems to provide winter heating in the North of China.
Approximately 20% of Shanghai smog is caused by pollutants blowing in from other provinces in the North, much of this concentrated during the winter months.
Beijing and other areas in the North experienced off-the-charts pollution levels several times in the winter of 2016 to 2017. The China Ministry of Environmental Protection criticized several local governments in the North for not doing enough to reduce air pollution during the winter.
On November 19th, 2016 Shanghai’s AQI hit the magic number of 200 for the first time since the previous winter, corresponding to a PM2.5 density of 150 mg/u3.
A PM2.5 density of 150 is the level at which the US AQI and the China AQI reach parity. Below this amount the Chinese index is more lax than the US index, with lower AQI numbers attributed to the same PM2.5 readings. Our China air quality article discusses the differences between the US AQI and the China AQI.
On the morning of Dec. 17th, 2016 the AQI hit 249. And on Dec. 23rd the Shanghai air quality index hit 262, with a PM2.5 reading of 212 ug/m3.
The bar for issuing a red alert for severe air quality, the highest of the four-tier alarm system, in the following 24 hours was lowered from 450 to 400 on China's Air quality index scale.
The bar for issuing a Blue alert, the lowest level alert, was lowered from the previous AQI forecast to be between 201 and 300 over the next 24 hours to when the AQI index stays between 151 and 200 with short-time severe pollution expected within 24 hours.
The first Blue alert for Shanghai under the new system was issued on December 16th, 2016.
Some construction sites were forced to suspend operations and some heavy polluting factories were required to reduce operations with the raising of the blue alert.
Such alerts have shown good results in Beijing, where the first air pollution Red alert of 2016 was issued on December 15th, resulting in many cars being ordered off the roads.
The pollution levels in the following days in Beijing, although still extremely high, were lower than forecasted.
The many measures adopted by local authorities over the years have certainly made a significant contribution to improved air quality in Shanghai.
The Shanghai government committed to reducing the average annual PM2.5 density to 49.6 ug/m3 (a 20% reduction from 2012 levels) by 2017 as part of the Clean Air Action Plan initiated in 2013.
Furthermore, Zhang Quan, director of the Shanghai Environmental Protection Bureau announced, “Our plan is to reduce the annual average PM2.5 density to 42 by 2020, and then to 35 ug/m3 after that.”
According to Zhang, Shanghai installed equipment to reduce discharges from 22 sets of power generators and required over 1,400 manufacturers to reduce their emissions of volatile organic chemicals (VOCs).
By November 2016, 766 factories had already completed the necessary retrofits to reduce pollution discharges.
Emissions from vehicles, which cause around 20% of Shanghai's air pollution, are also a key target. About 90,000 heavy polluting vehicles and 30,000 old cars were taken off the roads in 2015.
Zhang continued “This year we will continue with the elimination of vehicles produced before 2005 and require vessels in Shanghai’s ports to use cleaner fuel,”
The government has also implemented many preferential policies to encourage the use of electric and other ‘green cars’.
Many large construction sites, which contribute about 10% of Shanghai's pollution, have installed dust detectors so authorities can require them to shut down when they produce too much pollution.
Fines of 154 million yuan (US$ 22 million) have been levied on over 2,000 pollution related cases in Shanghai in the first 9 months of 2016, an approximately 40% increase on the previous year. These much stiffer fines are based on the stricter air pollution law which came in to effect on October 1st, 2014.
The penalties were once again increased, by as much as ten times, on October 1st 2016 when amended environmental protection rules came into effect.
Some success has also been achieved with Shanghai’s crack-down on straw burning, which causes about 10% of air pollution in Shanghai.
In December 2016 Shanghai hosted an inspection team sent by the Beijing central authorities which ordered about 500 enterprises to shut down or initiate renovations to reduce pollution.
More than 900 district-level environmental improvement projects were planned for 2015 to 2017 to help improve air quality in Shanghai.
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