Severe Smog in North China Prompts Warnings to Stay Inside

China warned people in its northern regions to stay indoors today as air pollution in Beijing averaged 18 times World Health Organization-recommended levels.

The concentration of PM2.5, fine particulates that pose the greatest risk to human health, was 447 micrograms per cubic meter at 10 p.m. near Tiananmen Square in Beijing, compared with an average of 456 over the past 24 hours, the Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center said on its website. The WHO recommends exposure to no higher than 25 micrograms per cubic meter over a day.

The smog adds to pressure on the government to take measures beyond shutting steel plants and limiting the number of cars on the road to battle air pollution.

Beijing Mayor Wang Anshun declared an “all-out effort” to tackle air pollution by cutting coal use by 2.6 million metric tons and transforming 300 polluting companies this year, the official Xinhua News Agency reported today.

Coal-burning boilers inside Beijing’s fifth ring road will be eliminated and measures taken against coal burning in the capital’s periphery, Xinhua said, citing Wang’s speech at the opening of the annual session of the municipal legislature.

A rising number of Chinese cities have introduced emergency measures to counter smog amid increasing social unrest over the health effects of a spoiled environment.

Nearby Cities

Air quality indexes in the cities of Shijiazhuang, Baoding and Xingtai in Hebei province, which surrounds Beijing, reached the maximum reading of 500 in the morning, data from the China National Environment Monitoring Center showed. Levels of PM2.5 were as high as 482 in Shijiazhuang and 746 in Xingtai.

China may fine local governments that miss air-pollution reduction targets set by the central government, the state-run China Daily reported today, citing a draft of the Atmospheric Pollution Prevention Act to be submitted to the central government early this year before going to the National People’s Congress.

Liaoning fined eight cities a combined 54.2 million yuan ($9 million) in December for emitting major pollutants in excess of the national standard between May 2012 and October 2013, the report said.

China’s provinces and biggest cities have been given targets to cut concentrations of some air pollutants by 5 to 25 percent by 2017 compared with 2012 levels.

Shanghai will order 50 percent of government vehicles off the road when the next day’s air quality index is forecast to exceed 450, the city said yesterday. Companies in industries including oil, steel, petrochemical and cement will be asked to reduce or halt production, and schools will stop all outdoor activities on the highest alert days.

As of 10 p.m., the PM2.5 level in Shanghai was 66 micrograms per cubic meter and the air quality index was 103, indicating “light pollution” air quality, according to the city’s Environmental Monitoring Center.

Pollution in Beijing will begin to ease around noon tomorrow, the Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center said on its website.

— With assistance by Feifei Shen

(Updates adding Beijing mayor’s comments in fourth, fifth paragraphs.)
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