Special Reports
Web Site Tracks China's Pollution Levels

By Chito Romana
ABC News
December 18, 2007

An environmental group in China is seeking to unleash the power of the
Internet in its campaign against the country's major polluters.

Cyclists ride in fog and pollution, in Nanjing eastern China's Jiangsu province,
Friday Dec. 14, 2007.

The nongovernmental Institute for Public and
Environmental Affairs (IPEA) unveiled a Web site last week that provides
information about air pollution in China and the environmental record of
factories and power plants.

According to Ma Jun, the director of the Beijing-based IPEA, the aim of the
Chinese-language Web site is to make information about air quality easily
accessible to the public and to make companies in China accountable for their
environmental behavior.

The launch of the site highlights the push by Chinese environmentalists to put
pressure on major polluters in the country, which is expected to soon overtake
the United States as the world's largest carbon emitter.

"Information is a powerful tool," Ma said at a recent news conference. "Access
to information is a precondition for public participation."

The China Air Pollution Map (http://air.ipe.org.cn) site is a public database
containing air pollution data published by local and central environmental
offices and media reports of official environmental reports since 2004.
It maps the locations of more than 4,200 factories that have violated the
country's air emission standards during the last four years, including 40
operated by multinational companies jointly with Chinese firms. Among the
biggest air polluters identified in the map are 300 power plants around the

The database also provides information about the air quality, sources of air
pollution and waste water discharge in 15 provinces and 150 cities in southern
China, including Hong Kong.

It shows the ranking of these Chinese provinces and cities based on their air
quality. The country's leading export producers, Jiangsu in east China and
Guangdong in south China, were listed as the top sources of industrial emissions
among the 15 provinces. Wuhan in central China and Nanjing in east China were
the most polluted cities on the list, based on the government's air pollution

The Web site not only seeks to make the Chinese public aware of pollution
sources in their communities, it also provides them with a forum to report
suspected violations of the government's anti-pollution laws.

However, the site's air pollution data is still incomplete and limited to areas
south of the Yangtze River. The institute plans to update the map with
additional data about provinces and cities in northern China in the next phase
of this project, which is supported by two Hong Kong-based foundations.
This is not the first time Ma Jun and his institute have used the Internet to
promote public awareness about environmental pollution.

Last year, they put out their first online database, the China Water Pollution
Map (http://www.ipe.org.cn), which listed about 9,400 cases of water pollution
by factories around the country, including 280 operated by foreign firms. Using
data compiled from official government reports, the map identified the locations
of these factories, which failed to meet the government's anti-pollution

The Web site attracted considerable attention in the domestic and international
media and the response from the blacklisted companies was encouraging, though
still limited. At least 50 companies responded to the site but most were foreign
firms and only two were domestic companies. Two have so far cleared their names
from the list by either complying with the anti-pollution rules or undergoing an
audit by a third party.

Ma Jun told the China Daily he hopes the air and water pollution maps will
pressure polluters to make improvements and encourage more people to join the
campaign to protect China's environment.

China's environmental authorities have already recognized Ma Jun's work in
compiling the water pollution map by naming him as one of China's "Green
Warriors in 2006."

Time Magazine also selected him last year as one of the "100 Who Shape Our
World," describing his 1999 book, "China's Water Crisis," as "the country's
first great environmental call to arms."

Having worked as a journalist in the past, it is perhaps not surprising that Ma
Jun knew the power of information. As an environmental advocate, he and his
institute has now emerged as a powerful voice for the growing green movement in China.


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