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Environmental protection? There's an app for that

2015-01-19 08:46 China Daily Web Editor: Si Huan
Apps on smartphones provide information about the weather as well as the emission of pollutants. [Photo by Zhu Xingxin/China Daily]

Apps on smartphones provide information about the weather as well as the emission of pollutants. [Photo by Zhu Xingxin/China Daily]

Although data provided to smartphones allow the general public to access information about local emissions levels, the programs are only as effective as the official agencies tasked with dealing with complaints.

After downloading a smartphone app called Pollution Map in September, Fang Zheng has used it to monitor emissions from local factories every day.

If the resident of Hefei city in Anhui province discovers that businesses are discharging excessive levels of airborne pollutants, far higher than the national standards, he posts their information on his micro blog and forwards it to the official accounts of the relevant authorities, including local governments and environmental protection bureaus, "like an observer", he said.

On Dec 8, the 27-year-old lawyer's dedication was rewarded when the environmental protection authorities launched an investigation into a persistent polluter in nearby Chaohu city, with the result that the company has promised to install advanced equipment and clean up its act within six months.

"It can seem as though individual efforts against large polluting companies are toothless, but they really do work," Fang said.

Further north, an environmental group called Green Activities in Jinan, Shandong province, has also been using Pollution Map to actively monitor and report polluters for the past seven months.

"We have identified 60 companies in our province that regularly emit excessive pollution, and 56 have released official documents listing the reasons, and the measures they will take to reduce emissions," the group's leader, Guo Yongqi, said.

Some of the companies have finished their upgrades and have invited Guo and his team to inspect the changes, an achievement that a small group such as Green Activities would have thought all but impossible until recently.

Ma Jun, one of China's best-known environmental activists, who helped develop the app via the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, an environmental group in Beijing, said: "Combining public strength to curb pollution, especially smog, has become a widespread trend."

The data shown on the app allow members of the public to identify and target persistent or unrepentant polluters. The high volume of online reports draw the attention of the media and the authorities, which should then move to punish those responsible.

The app displays hourly information on gases discharged by more than 4,000 factories in more than 360 cities and counties nationwide by using data from automated monitoring equipment installed by the government.

Ma said the app provides easy access to a huge amount of information about emissions, but because of the thousands of regular updates, it is quite time- and energy-consuming for an individual to use.

Of the more than 1,600 companies that have been exposed so far, 200 have finished upgrading their facilities, thus helping to reduce pollution. The app also allows long-distance monitoring by business partners. "A large number of global brands crosscheck their Chinese partners (which provide raw materials or processing facilities) to see if they are polluting the environment," he said.

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