BEIJING — Beijing told its 20 million residents to stay indoors Tuesday after a U.S. Embassy pollution monitor showed that air quality reached hazardous levels for the 18th day this month.
The concentration of PM2.5, the fine air particulates that pose the greatest health risk, was 476 at 2 p.m., more than 19 times World Health Organization recommendations for day-long exposure and 50 percent higher than the embassy’s “hazardous” cutoff of 301. Anything above 500 is branded “beyond index.”
Pollution levels have remained high after hitting record levels on Jan. 12 and Beijing officials later proposed new rules aimed at improving air quality. Further measures to clean up the capital may be difficult because much of Beijing’s smog comes from surrounding regions.
“China is the world’s biggest steel producer, and half of China’s steel is produced in areas around Beijing such as Hebei and Tianjin, mostly by burning coal,” Ma Jun, a Beijing-based environmentalist and founder of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, said in a phone interview. “How can the region stand this?”
Exposure to PM2.5 contributed to a total 8,572 premature deaths in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Xi’an in 2012, and led to economic losses of $1.08 billion, according to estimates given in a study by Greenpeace and Peking University’s School of Public Health published in December. China, which the World Bank estimates has 16 of the 20 most-polluted cities globally, is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases.
Official measurements of PM2.5 rose to 993 in Beijing on Jan. 12. The city has proposed rules to scrap old vehicles, ban new cement and steel factories, and impose fines for roadside vendors barbecuing food on smoggy days.
Beijing’s government should restrict or ban fireworks during the Lunar New Year if air pollution remains serious, Beijing News said in an opinion piece today, citing unidentified environmental analysts at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Peking University and Tsinghua University.
Air quality was given the worst rating on the city’s six- level scale today, according to the Beijing Municipal Environment Monitoring Center’s website. Levels of PM2.5 were an average of 380 micrograms per cubic meter near Tiananmen Square in the 24 hours to 2 p.m., according to its measure.
Wang Anshun, the municipality’s newly appointed mayor, said pollution should be the local government’s top priority, the China Daily newspaper reported today.
Beijing will tighten emissions criteria for new cars to match the strictest European Union standards starting next month. Diesel-driven vehicles that don’t meet China’s equivalent of the Euro V emissions specification will not be allowed to be sold or registered from Feb. 1, while a similar ban for gasoline cars will commence March 1.
Vice Premier Li Keqiang said earlier this month that production and construction can’t come at the price of the environment and asked people to be patient with pollution-control efforts.
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