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Cablegate: Beijing's Olympics Air Quality Improvements Temporary

VZCZCXRO0316
PP RUEHAST RUEHCN RUEHDH RUEHGH RUEHHM RUEHLN RUEHMA RUEHPB RUEHPOD
RUEHSL RUEHTRO
DE RUEHBJ #0353/01 0410913
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 100913Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY BEIJING
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8058
INFO RUEAEPA/HQ EPA WASHDC
RUEHOO/CHINA POSTS COLLECTIVE
RHEBAAA/DEPT OF ENERGY WASHINGTON DC
RUEAUSA/DEPT OF HHS WASHINGTON DC
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHDC
RUEHZN/ENVIRONMENT SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 BEIJING 000353

STATE FOR EAP/CM-BRAUNOHLER
STATE FOR OES, OES/EGC, OES/ENV, EAP/CM and EB
USDOE FOR INTERNATIONAL
EPA FOR INTERNATIONAL/MKASMAN

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: SENV CASC KGHG TRGY ENRG PREL CH

SUBJECT: BEIJING'S OLYMPICS AIR QUALITY IMPROVEMENTS TEMPORARY

REF: A. 2008 Beijing 1516; B. 2008 Beijing 2966; C. Beijing 1945

This cable is sensitive but unclassified. Not for distribution
outside the United States Government.


SUMMARY
-------

1. (SBU) The results of a Cornell University-led study on air
quality control measures imposed by the Chinese government during
the 2008 Olympics in Beijing show that local controls in Beijing
succeeded in only temporarily improving air quality. Although the
measures reduced certain pollutants, it also changed the air
chemistry which allowed other pollutants such as Ozone to form. The
weather played an especially significant role, with wind blowing in
from industrial regions outside of Beijing being responsible for
most of the pollution on bad air days. Data from the researchers'
monitor, located 7km away from the Embassy, also tracked closely
with that of the US Embassy monitor, validating the accuracy of the
Embassy's data and suggesting that the Embassy's readings are
representative of Beijing's overall air quality. Despite Beijing's
efforts in preparation for the Olympics, pollution levels in Beijing
still frequently reach the "hazardous" level, which may be
exacerbated by the greater use of coal due to the unusually cold
winter and natural gas shortages. End Summary.

Background
----------

2. (SBU) A recent study shed new light on China's efforts to improve
air quality for the Beijing Olympics. The study "PM and the Beijing
Olympics: Controls succeed when helped by the weather," was led by
Dane Westerdahl, Xing Wan and Max Zhang of Cornell University, in
collaboration with Ye Wu and Jiming Hao of Tsinghua University and
Xiaochuan Pan from the Peking University School of Public Health.
Researchers established a fixed community-monitoring station at the
Peking University Health Center, located on Beijing's northwest
fourth ring road. The team also conducted on-road assessments of
emissions from trucks and buses and near-roadway monitoring to
assess the impact of local traffic controls before, during, and
after the Olympics (summer 2007, 2008, and early winter 2009). In
addition to looking at the pollutants of concern to Chinese
authorities (PM10, sulfur dioxide, and carbon monoxide), the
monitoring equipment used in the study also measured PM2.5 and black
carbon concentrations.

3. (U) In formalizing its selection as the host of the 2008
Olympics, China promised the International Olympic Committee (IOC)
that it would meet international health guidelines for PM10, carbon
monoxide (CO) and sulfur dioxide (SO2). To honor this commitment,
the Beijing authorities imposed extensive pollution controls in
Beijing and the surrounding region (Refs. A, B). Driving
restrictions received the most attention. According to HE Kebin, a
professor at Tsinghua University's Department of Environmental
Science and Engineering Department, vehicle use causes 50 percent of
the particulate pollution in Beijing. Before the Olympics, only
trucks over three tons were prohibited from entering the central
city, and other trucks were only permitted in the city from midnight
until 6am. More stringent traffic control measures were gradually
imposed beginning in July 2008 and continued through September
2008(Refs. A, B).

Traffic Controls and Black Carbon
---------------------------------

4. (SBU) Research results clearly showed the positive impact of the
truck ban. When large trucks could enter the city after midnight,
black carbon measurements spiked, with maximum concentrations
measuring up to 30ug/m3 in both 2007 and 2008. Once the restrictions
banning high-polluting and non-local trucks from entering the city
took effect, the after-midnight spike in black carbon disappeared
and the concentrations averaged 3.65ug/m3. These measurements
confirmed that diesel trucks are a main contributor to black carbon
levels in Beijing.

Surprising Effects on Air Chemistry
-----------------------------------

5. (SBU) The researchers found that while the various pollution

BEIJING 00000353 002 OF 003


control measures did reduce PM10 levels in Beijing, it also had the
unintended consequence of changing the chemistry of the air which
may have resulted in increased ozone formation. [NOTE: The Embassy
has installed an Ozone monitor and will start to release readings in
February 2010. END NOTE] The researchers felt that Beijing was too
focused on meeting the IOC's rules on PM10 levels, and instead
should have focused on reducing PM2.5 levels to improve both health
and visibility.

6. (SBU) While vehicle emission controls appeared to be effective
in reducing black carbon levels, researchers also found a
correlation between PM2.5, black carbon and poor visibility. On
days with high levels of PM2.5 (polluted days), the levels of black
carbon tracked directly with PM2.5 and visibility was poor.
However, on days with low PM2.5 levels (clean days), there was not
as strong a correlation to lower levels of black carbon, and
visibility was good. The researchers noted that as black carbon is
also a carcinogen and a significant contributor to global warming,
reducing this pollutant would have multiple beneficial environmental
effects.

Successful Control Dependent on Weather
---------------------------------------

7. (SBU) Despite the various traffic and industry controls (Refs. A,
B), air pollution remained a problem on several days during the
Olympics. Pollutant levels of PM2.5 during the Olympics varied
widely from 9.8 ("Good" using EPA standards) to over 210ug/m3 ("Very
Unhealthy"). Researchers noted that on days of poor air quality, the
wind blew in from the Tianjin industrial area southeast of Beijing,
and on clean air days the wind direction was from the north or west
- blowing away from Tianjin. Therefore, the researchers concluded,
pollution controls enacted only in Beijing were doomed to limited
success because of the need to have a more regional approach (Ref.
B).

Study validates US Embassy monitor
----------------------------------

8. (SBU) The China Daily has reported several times on the
Embassy's PM2.5 monitor, but is careful to use cautionary statements
pointing out that the monitor is in a "high traffic area in the
central business district" or located in "Beijing's car-populated
business area," suggesting that the monitor data is not
representative of Beijing's overall air quality. This study,
however, refutes this assertion. From July 21, 2008, to August 20
2008, the readings from the researchers' PM2.5 monitor - located 7km
away from the Embassy - were nearly identical to those from the US
Embassy monitor. This suggests that the readings from the US
Embassy monitor are actually representative of Beijing's air quality
as a whole.

Air Quality Still Bad
---------------------

9. (SBU) Nearly a year-and-a-half following the Olympics, Beijing's
air quality has not significantly improved. With construction
continuing, trucks allowed into the city after midnight and the only
private vehicle control being a driving restriction on only one day
during the work week, the air is still consistently unhealthy. For
example, from November 9 through December 10 of 2009, the Air
Quality Index, as measured by the Embassy's PM2.5 monitor,
registered 18 days of "Hazardous" air, which, according to the EPA,
is a level normally seen during forest fires.

10. (SBU) In addition, the early and unusually cold winter is
exacerbating Beijing's pollution problems. In order to make up for
the energy shortfall as a result of a natural gas shortage, coal use
for heating and in industrial areas has increased. As the study
suggests, the pollutants from this additional coal burning explains
in part why Beijing's air quality in November and December was
particularly poor.

Conclusion
----------

11. (SBU) During the Olympics, local pollution control measures
were genuinely effective in reducing PM and CO levels, but only when
the weather was not blowing pollution in from the industrial regions
Southeast of Beijing. Clearly, any effective and sustainable effort

BEIJING 00000353 003 OF 003


at reducing Beijing's pollution will require a regional response.
The work of these researchers suggests that the technology to
control black carbon emissions is currently available and a strong
argument could be made that the dissemination and use of this
technology would make a significant contribution to China's overall
strategy for controlling pollutant and greenhouse gas emissions, as
well as improve visibility in China's most polluted cities.


HUNTSMAN

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