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US tweets get Beijing to cough up smog data

Mark Ralston / AFP - Getty Images

A smoggy Beijing day is seen last Dec. 5, and compared to a clear one on Aug. 18.

Beijing officials said Friday they'll be publishing more detailed smog readings -- a win for residents and their unusual ally: the U.S. Embassy.

The announcement comes after the embassy took to tweeting hourly air quality readings from a monitor atop its Beijing compound. Twitter.com/beijingair has nearly 16,800 followers and is being used in an iPhone app that reaches many others.

That data became fodder for angry residents who in recent weeks have been demanding more accurate readings. Days where buildings a few blocks away can't be seen have often been described by Beijing officials as "light" pollution.

The stricter standards will now monitor tiny floating particles -- 2.5 micrometers in diameter or less, known as PM2.5 -- that doctors warn can more easily settle in the lungs and cause respiratory problems and other illnesses.

A long-standing point of contention for Beijing residents was the government's unwillingness to disclose measures for PM2.5.

STORY: China starts to accept 'fog' is smog

The director of the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau was quoted in the Beijing Daily as saying that the agency would provide the readings of the PM2.5 standard starting from the Chinese New Year, which falls on Jan. 23 this year.

China's environmental ministry earlier said it would factor PM2.5 into national air quality standards, but not until 2016.

This post includes reporting from msnbc.com staff and Reuters.