The next time the largest city in the world has as embarrassing a week of pollution as the last, the world may be less likely to hear about it. In the middle of the off-the-charts week of smog, Chinese officials announced changes to the city’s alert system so fewer hazardous air quality notices will be sent.
Moving forward, Shanghai’s Environmental Protection Bureau will issue alerts when concentration of PM 2.5 (the smallest and most dangerous particulates) is above 115 microgram per cubic meter, nearly five times maximum 25 level World Health Organization officials recommend as safe. Before, a 75 level warranted an alert.
The situation hit a crisis point Friday when concentrations of the pollutant had blown past Shanghai’s official scale. While some of the air pollution has lifted, this Wednesday, Shanghai was still well past recommended PM2.5 levels, hovering around 100 micrograms per cubic meter. Shanghai calls this “lightly polluted.”
State-owned media described the previous standard as “too strict, given that haze is common in the Yangtze River Delta region in winter.” Some Chinese media have also downplayed the smog’s dangerous health impacts, arguing it has had a positive side, like making city residents more creative, humorous, and united.
But it is hard to argue pollution that looks like this from space is not a major problem:
For seven days, children and the elderly were warned against going outside and shocking images showed an entire city nearly disappear from the skyline. The severity of the problem has also prompted China to take more direct action in controlling pollution, including doubling its renewable energy sector in 2013, launching a carbon trading scheme, and reducing vehicle emissions.