Plants closed, cars stopped as China faces smog ‘red alert’

Air pol­lu­tion sur­passes WHO guide­line by 100 times

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

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.

WHO lim­its

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

—AP

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.

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