The characteristics and drivers of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) distribution in China

Shaojian Wang, Chunshan Zhou, Zhenbo Wang, Kuishuang Feng*, Klaus Hubacek

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

175 Citations (Scopus)


The frequent occurrence of extreme haze episodes in China in recent years has triggered the Chinese government to take action to tackle the serious air quality problems. Fine particulate matter (PM2.5) accounts for much of China's poor air quality; given the health risks associated with such pollution, the spatiotemporal characteristics of urban PM2.5 concentrations constitute a matter of significant interest within the Chinese research and policy communities. Using the first long-term datasets available in relation to PM2.5 levels, obtained from a year-long monitoring program of concentrations utilizing 945 monitoring stations in 190 cities in China in 2014, we found significant differences in PM2.5 concentrations among cities, ranging between 18.7 and 131.4 μg/m3, with an average of at 61 ± 20 μg/m3; only 18 (or 9.5%) of the 190 monitored cities could meet the National Ambient Air Quality Standards of China. PM2.5 concentrations are generally highest in the cities east of the Hu Line and north of the Yangtze River due to high PM emissions from transport and coal combustion and unfavorable atmospheric conditions. We also observed marked seasonal variations in concentration levels, with the highest levels occurring during winter and the lowest in summer. By grouping Chinese cities according to their size, our econometric analysis shows a positive correlation between PM2.5 concentrations and the size of the urban area, urban population, share of secondary industry and population density, and a first increasing and then decreasing relationship between GDP per capita and PM2.5 concentration. Urban expansion and structural economic change has thus contributed to an increase in urban PM2.5 emissions. Without careful planning, continuing urbanization will precipitate further severe air pollution causing significant health risks.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1800-1809
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Issue numberPart 4
Publication statusPublished - 20-Jan-2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Air pollution
  • China
  • Econometric analysis
  • Mitigation
  • Spatiotemporal characteristics

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