Chinese officials in the city of Xi’an, Shaanxi Province, have been detained for their involvement in knowingly tampering with air quality data in an attempt to falsify results.
The accused, including He Limin, the chief of Xi’an’s Environmental Protection Bureau, apparently interfered with the air pollution data by breaking and entering into the monitoring station and blocking the air samplers in a bid to avoid penalties for high pollution in the city.
According to a China Business View report, another official from the Environmental Protection Bureau reported the fake statistics to the police on Friday. The report claimed Limin made extra keys to the station and held on to computer passwords while the station was being relocated to the University of Posts and Telecommunications back in February.
With access to the station after hours, employees snuck in and blocked the air samplers by stuffing them with cotton gauze, which affected the air sampling, sending false data to the monitoring system. It was these data exceptions that caught the attention of the National Environmental Monitoring Center, who sent out inspectors to examine the station.
It was during the inspection they found out that surveillance videos for the month of March had been wiped, presumably covering up the after-hours activities. According to the Global Times, an insider told a local Xi’an newspaper that the environmental officials took these unsavory steps to make the data “look better” and avoid high-pollution penalties.
Air pollution in China kills an estimated 1.6 million people each year. It’s number one on the World Health Organization’s name and shame list of the world's worst polluters, which is not surprising considering last year the concentration of airborne hazardous particles in some regions reached 50 times the recommended safety limit.
So it’s not surprising China is trying to crack down on pollution. Last year, it introduced a new law that allowed environmental officials in charge of monitoring factories to shut them down if the pollution levels get too high. This can lead to financial losses for the businesses, which is where possible corruption can flourish. However, the Chinese government has set up measures to prevent the altering of statistics precisely for this reason, hence the surveillance system that raised the alarm after detecting the data anomalies.
In order to fulfill its obligations under the Paris Climate Agreement, China needs to cut carbon emissions by 60-65 percent per unit of GDP by 2030. It looks like it is making the right moves in the right direction, but we'll be crossing our fingers just in case.