Chinese Residents Can Now Track Pollution through an App

Jun 10, 2014 11:37 AM EDT | Jordan Ecarma

A new smartphone that tracks pollution produced by Chinese factories is a way for the public to monitor companies and see the levels of emissions in their air in real time.

Launched on Monday, the app is called "Pollution Information Transparency Index" and comes from two environmental groups, the Natural Resources Defense Council in New York and the Beijing-based Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, The New York Times reported.

The smartphone app allows users to monitor air quality in 190 cities to check for nearby pollution. Through hourly updates, the index color-codes plants according to levels of pollution, marking violators in red.

Data from the project has revealed "that environmental protection supervision and management information in those key cities still needs improvement, while on the other hand, breakthroughs have been achieved in disclosure of real-time pollution source data and of full environmental impact assessment reports," the groups said in a statement on Monday.

Just three years ago, Chinese authorities kept air quality data top-secret, so the app represents a significant shift toward public awareness, The Associated Press reported.

Around 15,000 factories are currently required to report their pollution levels in real time to the Environment Ministry, and some of the resulting data is required to be public. The app marks the first time air quality data has been available in one easy-to-access place.

Gu Beibei, senior project manager at IPE, told the Post that such data was previously difficult for users to access. 

"If the air quality is bad you can switch (to the factory map) and see who is in your neighborhood," she said. "It will be a very effective tool for people to voice out their concerns."

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