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Harbin Shuts Schools, Scraps Flights on ‘Hazardous’ Smog

Smog In Harbin
Residents with masks on their faces are seen under heavy smog in Harbin, China, on Oct. 21, 2013. Source: AFP/Getty Images

Oct. 22 (Bloomberg) -- The northeastern Chinese city of Harbin closed schools and grounded flights as air pollution in the municipality that’s home to 12.6 million residents reached “hazardous” levels.

The city, capital of Heilongjiang province, shut kindergartens, primary schools and junior high schools for a second day today, while allowing high school classes to resume, the Harbin Daily reported, citing local authorities. More than 2,000 schools were closed yesterday, according to the newspaper that’s controlled by the city government.

Harbin’s airport canceled 258 flights from and to the city yesterday, according to its official microblog. The airport had canceled 105 of 286 flights scheduled for today by noontime because visibility was only 50 meters, it said.

Pollution has surged in Harbin since the city began providing public heating from Oct. 20, the official Xinhua News Agency reported, citing the city’s environmental bureau. The city burns coal to produce steam that’s piped into homes and offices for heating, according to the Harbin Daily. Weaker winds and farms in the region burning straw in their fields after harvests also contributed to the smog, according to Xinhua.

Premier Li Keqiang pledged on taking office in March to clean up China’s air and water as the government seeks to assuage public anger sparked by environmental degradation. Pollution is the top cause of social unrest in China, according to Chen Jiping, a former leading member of the Communist Party’s Committee of Political and Legislative Affairs.

PM2.5 Levels

The concentration of PM2.5, fine air particulates that pose the greatest health risk, was more than 300 micrograms per cubic meter at 11 a.m. today at eight of the city’s 12 municipal monitoring stations, according to the Harbin municipal environmental air quality monitoring system. That’s 12 times greater than the World Health Organization’s recommendation of no higher than 25 for day-long exposure.

Air across most parts of Harbin today was “severely polluted,” the worst rating on the city’s six-level scale. At that level, the city recommends children, the elderly and those with illnesses to stay indoors.

PM2.5 levels exceeded 500 micrograms per cubic meter yesterday, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. Traffic on highways and flights in the neighboring provinces of Jilin and Liaoning were also disrupted yesterday, according to the report.

In Beijing today, the concentration of PM2.5 was 189 micrograms per cubic meter near Tiananmen Square at noontime, according to the city government’s monitoring center.

To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Feifei Shen in Beijing at fshen11@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reed Landberg at landberg@bloomberg.net

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