Plants closed, cars stopped as China faces smog ‘red alert’
Air pollution surpasses WHO guideline by 100 times
BEIJING: Engulfed in choking smog, some northern Chinese cities limited the number of cars on roads and temporarily shut down factories yesterday to cut down pollution during a national “red alert.”
More than 700 companies stopped production in Beijing and traffic police were restricting drivers by monitoring their license plate numbers, state media reported. Dozens of cities closed schools and took other emergency measures after a “red alert” was issued from Friday night to Wednesday for much of northern China. “The smog has serious repercussions on the lungs and the respiratory system, and it also influences the health of future generations, so under a red alert, it is safer to stay at home rather than go to school,” said Li Jingren, a 15year-old high school student in Beijing.
Authorities in the northern province of Hebei ordered coal and cement plants to temporarily shut down or reduce production. Elsewhere, hospitals prepared teams of doctors to handle an expected surge in cases of pollution-related illnesses. China’s long-standing air pollution is blamed on its reliance on coal and emissions from older cars.” If you are tracking back to the first day of this episode, you can see that the layer of the smog (in Beijing) is moving slowly from the south to the urban area in Beijing and then to the north,” said Dong Liansai, a climate campaigner with Greenpeace in Beijing. “You can easily find the large deployment (of smog) in the regions south of Beijing.”
Dong said emissions from factories in nearby provinces were the main cause of the smog choking the capital. The smog had earlier grounded flights in some cities and closed highways due to low visibility. On Sunday, news websites said the number of children being taken to Beijing hospitals with breathing trouble soared. Photos showed waiting rooms crowded with parents carrying children who wore face masks.
Members of the public closely watch levels of PM2.5, particles measuring 2.5 microns across that are easily inhaled and damage lung tissue. The alert, this winter’s first, lasts through Wednesday. Authorities in Jinan, south of Tianjin, raised that city’s alert to the second-highest level Sunday after the city “basically disappeared” in the haze, the newspaper Jilu Evening News reported. Photos on its website showed downtown office towers as ghostly silhouettes at midday. Beijing and other cities have tried to improve air quality by switching power plants from coal to natural gas and rolling out fleets of electric buses and taxis.
Concentrations of airborne pollutants in a major northern Chinese city exceeded a World Health Organization (WHO) guideline by 100 times yesterday as north China battled with poor air quality for the third straight day.
In Shijiazhuang, capital of northern Hebei province, levels of PM 2.5, fine particulate matter, soared to 1,000 micrograms per cubic metre, state-run Xinhua News Agency reported yesterday. That compares with a WHO guideline of an annual average of no more than 10 micrograms. In nearby Tianjin city, authorities grounded dozens of flights for the second day and closed all highways after severe smog blanketed the port city, one of more than 40 in China’s northeast to issue pollution warnings.
PM 2.5 levels hit 334 micrograms per cubic metre in Tianjin as of 4 p.m. local time, according to local environmental protection authorities. In Beijing, PM 2.5 levels were at 212 micrograms per cubic metre. On Saturday, 22 cities issued red alerts, including top steelmaking city Tangshan city in Hebei and Jinan in coal-rich Shandong province. A red alert is the highest possible air pollution warning.
Red alerts are issued when the Air Quality Index (AQI) is forecast to exceed 200 for more than four days in succession, 300 for more than two days or 500 for at least 24 hours. The AQI is a different measure from the PM 2.5 gauge. Pollution alerts have become increasingly common in China’s northern industrial heartland, especially during winter when energy demand much of it met by coal - skyrockets.
AQI readings at some monitoring stations in seven cities in Hebei peaked above 400 yesterday, with Shijiazhuang and two other cities breaking above the 500 limit, Xinhua said. Anything above 300 is considered hazardous by the US Environmental Protection Agency. —Agencies
BEIJING: A woman puts on a mask for protection against air pollution while walking on a pedestrian overhead bridge in Beijing as the capital of China is shrouded by heavy smog yesterday.