The air quality monitoring team at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, led by Erica Keen Thomas (front row, second from right), helped put pressure on the Chinese government to increase its standards for measuring air pollution. (Courtesy of U.S. Embassy Beijing)

What could be more important than the air we breathe?

Air pollution is a serious issue around the world. It harms the environment and our health. Despite these threats, air pollution levels are not monitored in many countries. The State Department is helping to change that.

In 2008, State Department staff at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing launched a pilot program to monitor air quality ahead of the Summer Olympics. Since then, the program has expanded to more than 60 locations around the world, ensuring that millions of people have access to reliable air quality data.

I’ve never seen an initiative of the U.S. government have such an immediate dramatic impact in a country.”

Gary Locke, U.S. Ambassador to China (2011-2014)

What is this machine?

This is the original air quality monitoring device installed on the roof of the U.S. Embassy in Beijing in 2008. Instruments like this are now used at many U.S. embassies and consulates around the world. They sample the air hourly to measure the level of particulate matter. They can detect fine particles of pollutants 25 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. (Collection of the National Museum of American Diplomacy)