“Airpocalypse” may not be in the Bible but it’s a deadly fact of life in air-pollution plagued Chinese cities such as the capital of Beijing.

Smog has gotten so bad in China that la group of lawyers are suing the government, seeking an apology and compensation. But clearer skies could be ahead thanks to research conducted by scientists at RTI International.

In a new report, RTI and partners from several organizations including the EPA and a regional environmental agency in China, outline steps they believe China can take to improve air quality. (The U.S. Trade and Development Agency paid for the study.)

How bad is the air? For example, Thursday, The Associated Press cited a series of complaints from the lawyers who filed the suit. They say:

  • “We are the victims of smog and we are entitled to ask for an apology and compensation from the government.”
  • “I know my chances of winning are small. But I just want to make people understand that the government bears the main responsibility for dealing with smog and air pollution.”
  • “Some people might think that air pollution is inevitable with economic development, but they are wrong. We have laws to protect air quality, and major pollution can be avoided if they are fully enforced.”

One lawyer wants to be reimbursed the costs for face masks, a doctor’s visit and emotional distress.

Other lawsuits have failed, The AP notes, but RTI may have recommendations that help satisfy both sides and lead to improvement in the pollution epidemic.

Recommendations include:

  • Coordinate interagency planning and data sharing
  • Develop emissions standards that reflect best available control technologies
  • Update and implement emergency programs when pollution levels are too high
  • Develop a strong, but fair, enforcement program

Those are hardly as draconian as steps already taken by the government to close down factories, ban some driving, and much more.

“China has undergone an economic surge over the past few decades, and as a result air quality has suffered,” said Rebecca Nicholson, vice president of RTI’s Environmental Engineering & Economics Division, who also is one of the report’s authors. “The United States has had its own challenges managing air quality and economic growth, and the report shares lessons learned through that experience.”

The study researched data from three cities in Jiangsu Province which has “had the highest industrial smoke and dust emissions in China, and was ranked second in coal consumption,” RTI notes.

Better data = better air?

Nicholson says that data concerning air quality is improving and Chinese authorities can augment steps to fight pollution by taking better advantage of that information.

“Leveraging this knowledge, China can maintain its economic growth while reducing air pollution and improving overall public health,” Nicholson explained.

The report’s abstract spells out the goals:

“This report provides guidance on U.S. best practices in air quality planning and recommendations intended to assist Jiangsu Province and the three pilot cities with developing the next generation of air quality plans. Control strategies are presented for reducing emissions of PM2.5, PM2.5 precursors (SO2, NOX, and VOC), and hazardous air pollutants. Consideration is also given to energy planning and to greenhouse gas emissions, specifically CO2.”

Meanwhile, frustration continues to mount.

“The lawsuits demonstrate the mounting frustration of China’s middle class at the country’s notoriously bad air, a topic that is expected to be discussed at the upcoming annual meeting of the country’s parliament three years after Premier Li Keqiang declared a ‘war on pollution’ at the same event,” The AP reports.

Beijing’s air has shown some improvement since 2013, the AP notes, but the story also points out that a pollutant cited in the RTI report – PM2.5 – remains very high.

“[T]he city’s average reading of the tiny particulate matter PM2.5 — considered a good gauge of air pollution — is still seven times what the World Health Organization considers safe,” the AP says.

Read more about the report at: