While the air quality in China's capital is getting better, Zhengzhou is a manufacturing and economic powerhouse where environmental guidelines are rarely enforced. So while Beijing residents can breathe slightly easier, Zhengzhou continues to have nightmarish air quality. Henan Province, where Zhengzhou is located, has some of the worst air in the whole country, according to a report from Greenpeace. Winter brings even more problems, as the northern provinces like Henan rely heavily on coal power.
China has been setting national and local targets to reduce its notorious air pollution as citizens have become increasingly aware of the health dangers. Beijing's municipal government, for example, has been replacing coal-fired boilers with natural gas-powered facilities, forcing older, more polluting vehicles off the road, and closing or moving factories that are heavy polluters. These aggressive initiatives are not in place for other cities, according to Greenpeace.
Beijing's average concentration of PM2.5 — small, inhalable particles that can penetrate deep into the lungs and are considered a reliable gauge of air quality — was 81 micrograms per cubic meter in 2015. That was a drop of 6 percent from 2014, and 10 percent lower than 2013, when Beijing started publishing data on PM2.5.
The "number of days of most serious PM2.5 pollution is falling each year," the capital's municipal environmental protection bureau said last week.
It was, however, still more than twice China's own standard of 35 micrograms per cubic meter, and seven times higher than an annual mean of 10 that the World Health Organization gives as its guideline for safe air. While the rate of particulates for Beijing is high, it's nothing compared to what the residents of Zhengzhou are breathing. As of Friday, the air in Zhengzhou is at 181 micrograms per cubic meter, according to the air-quality tracking website AQICN. Greenpeace puts Zhengzhou's average air quality at 153.
Chinese cities' air gets especially bad in the winter, when the burning of coal for heat in northern China increases and weather patterns add to the smog. Almost half of the worst air days were in the final two months, according to the environmental bureau.
Associated Press contributed to this report.