Fine particulate matter, or PM2.5, is an air pollutant that makes the air look hazy on hot summer days. The individual particles are tiny--less than one thirtieth the width of a human hair—and they are dangerous. Because PM2.5 particles are so small, they can travel deep into our lungs. These fine particles are the leading cause of air pollution-related deaths, and can also worsen some health conditions such as asthma, heart and lung diseases, and some auto-immune diseases.
People need to have information on how clean or dirty their air is to make day-to-day decisions. That is why, 15 years ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, created AirNow, a web-based platform to share real-time air quality readings in 400 cities across the United States.
AirNow works, so now we are slowly expanding this system at select locations around the globe. On February 19, Secretary John Kerry and U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy signed a document that will bring air quality monitoring to select U.S. diplomatic posts around the world. Within a few months, AirNow will expand to India, Vietnam, Mongolia, and other countries.
The idea began in China, when we began monitoring the air quality at our embassy in Beijing. At first, the Chinese were not happy about it. But the program worked, and soon, the Chinese Government had set up some 2000 monitoring stations of its own.
“There was a time when poor visibility in cities like Beijing was blamed simply on excessive fog,” said Secretary Kerry. “But today, in part because of expanded air-quality monitoring in cities throughout China, the Chinese Government is now deeply committed to getting the pollution under control.”
And this concern about air pollution, said Secretary Kerry, helped spur greater cooperation on environmental issues, and indirectly led to “unprecedented cooperation between our nations in addressing one of the greatest threats, which is climate change.”
“The United States and China, the world’s two largest emitters of greenhouse gasses – carbon pollution – two countries long regarded as the leaders of opposing camps in the effort to do something about climate change, have now found common ground on this issue,” said Secretary Kerry.
“It’s the kind of cooperation we’re going to need to see in order to be able to push back against these enormous challenges in all corners of the globe.”