Tougher steps taken as smog grips region again
Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei temporarily clear, but pollution is forecast to return through Friday
The Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region has entered its fifth round of heavy smog since the beginning of October, dragging down air quality and forcing governments to take tougher measures.
However, top-level inspection teams continue to report violations of pollution rules by companies and weak implementation by local authorities.
The smog cleared temporarily on Monday but was forecast to return and cover large areas of northern and central China on Tuesday night, lasting through Friday, the National Meteorological Center said on Monday.
Beijing’s air quality rose to a healthier level on Monday, thanks to winds. Some northern cities in neighboring Hebei province also saw an easing of air pollution, the center said.
In some parts of the region, including Shijiazhuang, capital of Hebei, expressways were closed temporarily early on Monday due to thick fog, which reduced visibility to within 40 meters. The fog eventually lifted, but air pollution remained severe.
As of 3 pm, the air quality reading in Shijiazhuang had climbed to the most severe level in the six-tier alert system, according to data from the provincial air quality monitoring website.
Cities in the central and southern areas of the region, such as Baoding and Handan, experienced “hazardous” pollution levels, hitting the secondlevel, and the northern part of Henan, including Zhengzhou, saw air quality hit the most severe level, according to the website of the China National Environmental Monitoring Center.
Since the start of October, the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region has been hit by several rounds of heavy smog, the Ministry of Environmental Protection said.
The region’s 13 cities met the national air quality standard around 64 percent of days in October, a year-onyear drop of 6.8 percent. The concentration of PM2.5— particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in diameter that is especially hazardous to human health — increased by 13.3 percent year-on-year, the ministry said.
Among the region’s cities, Shijiazhuang has seen the biggest challenges.
Since Oct 1, it has had the worst air quality, with PM2.5 readings 60 percent higher than the regional average, the national monitoring center said on Sunday. In October, Shijiazhuang was the worst of the 74 major cities with air pollution.
In response, the ministry has sent inspection teams to Shijiazhuang and other cities to monitor their efforts to reduce air pollution.
The teams have found companies in violation of government restrictions on the emission of pollutants as well as weak implementation by authorities. The burning of waste and corn straw outdoors is severe, the inspection teams found.
Hebei has set strict controls on pollutant emissions, such as suspending polluting industries like cement-making plants during the heating season, from Nov 15 to March 15, while iron and steel plants and coal-fired power plants will be shut down if they cannot guarantee stable emissions.
Other emergency measures taken to cope with severe smog will become regular efforts. Shijiazhuang, for example, will begin vehicle use restrictions during the heating season, allowing about one-fifth of private vehicles to operate each day.
“The detailed restrictions and implementation plan will be released soon based on cities’ conditions,” said an official from the provincial Environmental Department who requested anonymity.