Shanghai ordered vehicles off the road and factories to cut production after pollution reached hazardous levels, as Hong Kong announced plans to introduce an air quality index that assesses health risks from smog.
A heavy fog shrouding Shanghai caused widespread flight cancellations and sent an air quality index monitored by the U.S. consulate in the city surging past 500 to the “beyond index” category. Hong Kong’s air pollution index reached “very high” levels at three roadside monitors, according to its Environment Protection Department.
Heavy pollution may undermine plans for the financial hubs to attract foreign talent and investment and push up health-care costs. Outdoor air pollution can cause lung cancer, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a World Health Organization agency said in October, ranking it as a carcinogen for the first time.
“The pollution is worse today and the fog is getting heavier,” said Zhang Yanbing, analyst at Zheshang Securities Co. in Shanghai. “I am not prohibiting my kids from going outside because we have to learn to grow up in all kinds of environment. But they are definitely wearing face masks.”
Shanghai took emergency steps against pollution, ordering 30 percent of government-used vehicles off the road and industrial companies to reduce or halt production, the city said on its microblog.
Premier Li Keqiang pledged in March to clean up pollution including cutting coal consumption, shutting steel plants and controlling the number of cars. Pollution has become the top cause of social unrest in China, Chen Jiping, a former leading member of the Communist Party’s Committee of Political and Legislative Affairs, said that same month.
Shanghai’s air quality level was at 455 at 4 p.m., the U.S. consulate in Shanghai said. Pollution is hazardous and people should take steps to reduce their exposure such as staying indoors in a room or building with filtered air, it said. Visibility was as low as 600 meters in some parts of the city, according to a government weather website.
The Shanghai government pegged the air quality level at 473, or “severe,” the highest in a six-tier rating system, according to its own monitoring system. Today’s level surpasses the previous record of 317, the Shanghai Daily reported. Local authorities warned children and elderly people to stay indoors.
Readings on Hong Kong’s new index will be calculated based on health risks from inhaling concentrations of ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter, the government said in a statement today.
The higher standards, which spell out the health risks clearer, is the first time the former British colony has changed the way it measures air quality since 1987. Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has made cleaning up the city’s skies a priority with air quality in Hong Kong worsening since 2007.
“It’s a much tightened standard,” Andrew Lai, deputy director of environment protection, told reporters today. “Under the new index, we are not only reflecting the concentration levels of the key air pollutants but also the health risks associated with those pollutants.”
Levels of PM2.5 -- particles smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter that pose the biggest health risk -- were 602.2 micrograms per cubic meter in Shanghai, more than 24 times WHO’s recommended levels, the city’s monitoring center data showed.
Shanghai, which implemented a free-trade zone as part of a broader goal to become a global financial and logistics center by 2020, announced a plan in October to cut 2012 PM2.5 readings by 20 percent by 2017 by pushing the use of new-energy buses and phasing out excessively polluting cars and taxis.
At least half of the students at the Origin Education Children’s House, a private kindergarten in Shanghai, didn’t show up today, said Qian Ying, a teacher at the school. The kindergarten also canceled all outdoor activities, Qian said.
Masks and air purifiers produced by 3M Co. (MMM) have mostly sold out, Royce Hua, its Shanghai-based head of corporate communications, said by telephone today. The company won’t be able to boost production in the near future because capacity has been reached, he said.
At least 102 outbound flights and 122 inbound flights were delayed at Shanghai’s two airports in Pudong and Hongqiao, while 28 outbound flights and 29 inbound were cancelled, according to Bloomberg calculations based on data from the Shanghai Airport Authority’s website. Su Weiwei, a spokeswoman for the authority, declined to confirm how many flights have been cancelled and said schedules would be disrupted all day.
Chinese environmental protection shares rose as a slump in coal producers dragged down the nation’s benchmark index. The Shanghai Composite Index slipped 0.4 percent at the close, with China Shenhua Energy Co. falling 0.9 percent. Fujian Longking, which makes pollution control equipment, gained 0.8 percent after rallying as much as 6.2 percent.
An orange-level haze alert, the second highest, remained in effect, according to China’s meterological authority. Elevated highways were facing heavy congestion with some highway entrances closed and some river traffic halted, the Shanghai government information office’s microblog said.
“It’s horrible out there,” said Scott Goldman, an American who works as a project manager for Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business in Shanghai. “I was just up in Beijing three days ago. Usually Beijing’s worse but not this time.”
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