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Severe pollution hits Beijing yet again

Publication Date : 30-01-2013

 

For the fourth time this month, alarmingly severe smog shrouded large parts of north-eastern China, forcing hundreds of flights to be cancelled or delayed and at least five major highways to be closed.

Visibility reportedly dropped to no more than 100m in some areas.

Pollution levels exceeded what indices can measure in Beijing, one of China's worst-hit cities. This forced the capital's authorities to hold an emergency meeting yesterday to roll out stricter temporary measures.

These include halting production at 103 polluting factories, and a ban on trucks carrying loose soil, which is easily scattered on roads.

But real relief from the caustic air may come only tomorrow, when snowfall and winds may help disperse the smog.

In the meantime, pollution levels remain "severe", according to the authorities.

Beijing's official air quality index (AQI) for particles less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter, or PM2.5, registered a reading of 393 at 10am yesterday. This prompted Beijing to issue a "yellow alert" for "severely polluted" air.

The United States Embassy's AQI, meanwhile, hit 517 - or "beyond index" - at 6am.

It improved to a "hazardous" level of more than 460 in the afternoon.

A reading over 150 is considered "unhealthy" while anything over 300 is "hazardous".

Beijing resident Ren Donghua, 41, was holed up at home on sick leave.

"I wear a mask when I am outdoors these few days, but it seems useless against the dirty fog," said Ren, an administrator in a foreign organisation.

"Now my throat is dry and hurts badly, so I've been drinking water and eating pears to moisten my lungs."

Other Beijingers use black humour to cope with the haze.

State broadcaster CCTV's presenter Zhang Quanling poked fun at people smoking outdoors in her microblog: "They really don't know how to save money! Just take two breaths of air anywhere in Beijing and you can smoke!"

The persistent smog is expected to disrupt travel for tens of thousands of passengers heading home during the peak six-week Chinese New Year travel period, which started this week.

Zhengzhou Airport in Henan province yesterday cancelled 109 flights, while Beijing grounded 61 flights on Monday and at least 20 more yesterday morning.

Amid a mounting public outcry, Beijing authorities yesterday pledged tougher emergency measures to fight the pollution. These include taking 30 per cent of official cars off the roads.

And Beijing will become one of the first Chinese cities to require new vehicles to meet the strictest European Union standards, called Euro V, from Friday.

Analysts say Beijing already has good laws to meet its target of cutting its PM2.5 readings by 2 per cent this year, and to raise its air quality to World Health Organisation standards by 2050.

But the problem lies in implementation.

"It is not easy to meet even the 2 per cent reduction target as Beijing is still developing and has over 20 million people," said Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs professor Ma Jun.

"But (PM2.5 readings) urgently need to be cut by more than 2 per cent. The price (of pollution) is too high to pay - from the damage caused to the health of its residents, especially children, to its image as an international city."

 

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