In a small industrial area of Dongguan, a city in southern China’s Guangdong province, a drone hovers 150m above the ground.

The IntelFlight device, equipped with a sensor that detects eight types of air pollutant, is collecting data after a resident reported an unpleasant odour to the environmental authorities.

“With the help of drones, any resident can now pick up their phone and stop pollution within hours,” said Fang Jiawei, a product manager at Guangdong IntelFlight UAV, which provides drone services to the Dongguan government.

Dongguan, one of the world’s biggest manufacturing hubs, is home to more than 300,000 factories making everything from shoes to smartphones, and all crammed into a region about the size of Hong Kong.

The average PM2.5 level – the small polluting particles deemed most harmful to health – is 35 micrograms per cubic metre, close to that of downtown Paris.

“We’re not just impressed by the results, we’re shocked,” Fang said.

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