Pollution in Beijing Soars for Second Weekend as Smog Returns

Pollution in Beijing soared for a second weekend as smog started to cover most of the city from late yesterday, prompting the government to warn residents to reduce outdoor activities and urge companies to curb emissions.

The city’s meteorological bureau issued yellow alerts for fog and haze while children and the elderly were advised stay indoors as the air became “heavily polluted,” according to Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center classifications. Readings of PM2.5, fine airborne particulates that pose the largest health risks, rose as high as 400 micrograms per cubic meter in some parts of the city, compared with World Health Organization guidelines of no more than 25.

Bad air quality and pollution is prompting more Chinese to travel abroad for the weeklong Chinese Lunar New Year holiday which starts Feb. 9, state-run China National Radio said today.

Snow is forecast to fall in Beijing today and tomorrow which should improve the air quality, the official Xinhua News Agency reported today, citing the local weather bureau.

Beijing ordered government vehicles off the city’s roads on Jan. 13 as part of an emergency response plan to ease pollution that engulfed the capital and left hospitals inundated with patients complaining of heart and respiratory ailments. It also told dozens of factories to temporarily halt production and construction companies to suspend work.

Official measurements of PM2.5 rose as high as 993 micrograms per cubic meter on Jan. 12. At 4 p.m. local-time today, the PM2.5 reading was 125 while the Air Quality Index was at 164, a level the government describes as “lightly polluted.”

‘Beijing Cough’

The U.S. Embassy in Beijing, which uses a monitor in its compound in the east of the capital, showed a PM2.5 reading of 71 at 4 p.m., down from 371 at 10 a.m. Its Air Quality Index reading was 154, down from 415.

Long-term exposure to fine particulates raises the risk of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases as well as lung cancer, according to the WHO. The official English-language China Daily newspaper said Jan. 14 that Beijing was becoming better known for “Beijing Cough” than it was for Peking Duck or Peking Opera.

China, which the World Bank estimates has 16 of the world’s 20 most-polluted cities, is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases. The burning of coal is the main source of pollution, accounting for 19 percent, while vehicle emissions contribute 6 percent, according to a study by Greenpeace and Peking University’s School of Public Health published Dec. 18.

Li Keqiang, set to become China’s next premier, called for the nation’s citizens to be patient as authorities work to reduce pollution. Li, whose comments were broadcast on state radio on Jan. 15, spoke after state media criticized the government’s handling of pollution and the environment.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection issued a circular on Jan. 14 calling on local governments to step up prevention and control of air pollution, ensure emergency response plans are implemented when needed and safeguard public health.

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