Beijing’s pollution levels hit a record high yesterday, prompting authorities to tell residents to stay indoors for a third day and warn that the hazardous air quality will persist until Jan. 15.
Many monitoring sites around the Chinese capital showed “serious” pollution levels, the worst classification of air quality yesterday, according to the local environmental protection bureau. Official readings of PM2.5, fine airborne particulates that pose the largest health risks, were more than 700 micrograms per cubic meter. A monitor at the U.S. Embassy, whose website described the pollution as “beyond index,” showed levels of more than 800.
“This is the worst pollution on record since Beijing started a trial publication of the PM 2.5 air quality report at the beginning of last year,” Ma Jun, a Beijing-based environmentalist and founder of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, a nonprofit organization that monitors corporate environmental performance, said in a telephone interview today.
China, which the World Bank estimates to be home to 16 of the world’s 20 most-polluted cities, is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Beijing began to release real-time air quality data that measures pollutants of 2.5 micrometers in size in September, and 74 cities started publishing data including PM 2.5, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide starting Jan. 1, the official Xinhua News Agency reported on Dec. 28.
State media criticized the government’s previous plan to make the data available by 2016 for being too slow.
“The seriously polluted air quality will remain for another three days,” the Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center said yesterday on its official account on Sina Corp.’s Weibo microblog service. “During this time, residents are suggested to avoid going outdoors or undertaking strenuous activities.”
Data published by the U.S. Embassy in Beijing using a monitor in its compound in the east of the capital showed the Air Quality Index measurement peaked at 728 at 4 p.m. yesterday, exceeding its highest level of “hazardous” while the PM2.5 reading reached 845 micrograms per cubic meter.
The China Daily newspaper said yesterday that central and northern parts of the country were also hit by pollution, with the provinces of Hebei and Henan among the worst affected. An air quality report from the Ministry of Environmental Protection ranked Handan, Baoding and Shijiazhuang in Hebei and Henan’s capital, Zhengzhou, as the top four most-polluted cities among 120 monitored nationwide, the paper reported.
“In the past years there’s been robust growth in heavy industries in areas surrounding Beijing such as steel making, smelting, power generating and petro-chemical sectors,” Ma said. “Increased demand for heating in winter, more vehicles running on roads, have all contributed to the high level of pollutants in the air.”
Heavy smog shrouded northern China’s Hebei province, with the provincial capital Shijiazhuang ranked as the most polluted city nationwide, China National Radio said today on its website. Four of China’s 10 most-polluted cities are located in Hebei where the provincial government initiated a level-IV natural disaster response for the first time in history because of smog, according to the report.
Beijing also has an “emergency-response plan for so-called ‘severely-polluted’ conditions, which I think should have been triggered now at least in some parts of the city,” Ma said. “It includes, for example, alerting the public on the hazardous air quality, stopping students from having outdoor physical education lessons, and halting activities at construction sites that may increase dirt and particle levels in the air.”
In a separate report yesterday, Xinhua said the fog caused disruption to road and air traffic in several provinces. In eastern Shandong, more than 20 highways were closed as fog reduced visibility to less than 50 meters in some areas, it cited the province’s meteorological center as saying. A total of 63 flights in and out of the provincial capital, Qingdao, were canceled or delayed yesterday, affecting about 5,000 passengers, it said.
--Helen Sun and Feiwen Rong. Editor: Paul Tighe, Nerys Avery
To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Helen Sun in Shanghai at firstname.lastname@example.org; Feiwen Rong in Beijing at email@example.com
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