Beijing Residents Told to Stay In as Smog Exceeds Exposure Limit

Beijing told its 20 million residents to avoid outdoor activities as a U.S. Embassy pollution monitor showed levels of smog surpassing hazardous levels in the Chinese capital.

Concentrations of PM2.5, fine air particulates that pose the greatest health risk, rose to 520 micrograms per cubic meter at 3 p.m. near Tiananmen Square from an average of 260 in the past 24 hours, according to the Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center. That reading was more than 20 times higher than the World Health Organization recommendations of no higher than 25 for day-long exposure.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has introduced measures including controls on burning coal and road traffic to assuage public anger about dirty air and water. Pollution is the main cause of social unrest in the country, according to Chen Jiping, a former leading member of the Communist Party’s Committee of Political and Legislative Affairs.

The air across large parts of the city was “severely polluted,” the worst rating on the government’s six-level scale, the center said on its official microblog today, adding that children, the elderly and ill should stay indoors. Rain is expected later tonight, which should help improve conditions, the center said.

The U.S. Embassy pollution monitor said PM2.5 levels reached 432 as of 5 p.m.

Air quality in Beijing reached hazardous levels for 20 days in January this year, according to U.S. Embassy readings. The measure showed average level of PM2.5 pollution in the city during that period was similar to an airport smoking lounge, based on comparisons with data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

The government should reconsider its growth strategy to make the environment “an integral part of economic development decision-making,” the China Daily newspaper said in an editorial June 24. “It is time the nation made the hard but necessary choice to seek a better environment at the cost of economic growth.”