Planes grounded as smog chokes China for fifth day

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

Heavy smog suf­fo­cated north­east China for a fifth day yes­ter­day, with hun­dreds of flights can­celled and road and rail trans­port grind­ing to a halt un­der the low vis­i­bil­ity con­di­tions. More than 20 ci­ties have en­tered a state of red alert since Fri­day evening, im­ple­ment­ing emer­gency mea­sures aimed at cut­ting emis­sions and pro­tect­ing pub­lic health from the toxic mi­asma. Across the re­gion, con­struc­tion sites closed and author­i­ties re­duced the num­ber of ve­hi­cles al­lowed on the roads in hopes of re­duc­ing the thick haze.

In Shi­ji­azhuang, the cap­i­tal of north­ern He­bei prov­ince, planes could not take off or land, ac­cord­ing to a post on a ver­i­fied so­cial me­dia ac­count of the city’s in­ter­na­tional air­port. Lev­els of PM 2.5 - mi­cro­scopic par­ti­cles harm­ful to hu­man health - climbed to 844 in the area, ac­cord­ing to the web­site aqicn.org. The num­ber is al­most 34 times the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion’s rec­om­mended max­i­mum ex­po­sure level of 25 over a 24-hour pe­riod.

On the pre­vi­ous day, the count of PM 10, larger par­ti­cles that con­trib­ute to the thick haze, was off the charts, ex­ceed­ing the max­i­mum reading of 999. On the streets of Beijing, build­ings dis­ap­peared into a yel­low­ish haze so thick that the city closed sev­eral ma­jor high­ways over safety con­cerns. PM 2.5 lev­els hov­ered around 400 mid-day, ac­cord­ing to data pro­vided by the US em­bassy in the city.

As of 11:00 am Beijing Cap­i­tal In­ter­na­tional air­port had can­celled 217 flights, it said in a post on its ver­i­fied so­cial me­dia ac­count. Trains, too, were run­ning slowly, with at least 11 de­lays in the cap­i­tal and an­other 34 halted in the neigh­bor­ing port city of Tian­jin. A red alert, is­sued when se­vere smog is ex­pected to last more than 72 hours, is the high­est of Beijing’s four-tiered, color-coded warn­ing sys­tem.

In De­cem­ber last year the cap­i­tal is­sued its first ever red alert since the adop­tion of an emer­gency re­sponse pro­gram for air pol­lu­tion in 2013, de­spite fre­quent bouts of se­ri­ous smog. Most of China’s smog is blamed on the burn­ing of coal for elec­tric­ity and heat­ing, which spikes when de­mand peaks in win­ter. The is­sue is a source of en­dur­ing pub­lic anger in China, where fast eco­nomic growth in re­cent decades has come at the cost of wide­spread environmental degra­da­tion.

On so­cial me­dia, com­menters vented their anger and dis­be­lief at the con­di­tions, which author­i­ties have long vowed to im­prove. “I thought Beijing was at­tacked by a nu­clear (weapon) this morn­ing,” said one post on the Twit­ter-like Weibo mi­croblog. “My throat hurts and itches, my head hurts, too,” said an­other. “I think Beijing peo­ple can only stand it and not protest be­cause the Party has tamed us so well.” — AFP

BEIJING: An el­derly man walks in front of a group of peo­ple dur­ing heavy smog at the Tem­ple of Heaven park yes­ter­day. —AFP

A man places his hand over his mouth as he walks past graf­fiti of a dragon on a street in Beijing yes­ter­day. — AP

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