Beijing Air Pollution Eases After Hazardous Smog Levels

Air pollution in Beijing eased after firework displays traditionally marking the end of the Lunar New Year festival added to hazardous levels of atmospheric contamination.

Micrograms-per-cubic-meter concentration of PM2.5, fine particulates that pose the greatest risk to human health, fell to 74 near Tiananmen Square in central Beijing at 9 a.m., according to data on the website of the city’s air-monitoring center. The average in the previous 24 hours was down to 191 from 432 over the same period at yesterday noon.

The World Health Organization advises day-long exposure of no higher than 25.

Thirty-three Chinese cities recorded air quality indexes at heavily polluted levels on Feb. 14, the end of the 15-day Lunar New Year celebration, with the PM2.5 level in Beijing’s Tongzhou district reaching 900 even as residents touched off fewer fireworks this year, according to Xinhua News Agency.

“The recent pollution may be caused by fireworks,” Li Zhenlong, 30, who works in the energy industry in the Chinese capital, said yesterday. “We shouldn’t completely forbid firecrackers, this depends on people’s own free will, while the government should largely promote not doing it.”

Fireworks sales in Beijing during the festival declined 38 percent from a year earlier, Xinhua reported, citing data from the municipal fireworks office.

Emergency Measures

China Central Television accused Beijing officials of turning a blind eye to the city’s worsening air quality in recent days, after they didn’t initiate an emergency response to the situation.

Beijing announced in October that it would take emergency measures -- including cutting road traffic and shutting schools -- when the city issues a red alert, its highest air pollution warning. A blue alert, the lowest of the four levels, has been in effect since Feb. 14, according to Xinhua.

Inaction by officials in the capital over the heaviest air pollution in a month flew in the face of their promises, the official China Daily said in an editorial today. Rather than simply making rules to curb air pollution, the government should set penalties for violations of the rules, the report said.

Chinese authorities have been seeking to clean up the nation’s air and water in an effort to assuage public anger over environmental degradation. Pollution is the leading cause of social unrest in China, according to Chen Jiping, a former member of the Communist Party’s Committee of Political and Legislative Affairs.

Factories, Cars

Beijing Mayor Wang Anshun last month said the city would cut coal use by 2.6 million metric tons and eliminate 300 polluting companies this year, Xinhua reported.

“Smog is due to emissions from factories and cars,” said Zhang Jiaxing, a 16-year-old building guard. “Of course fireworks are also bad for the air even if not a main reason. The government should strengthen the environment protection industry and investigate and punish polluting factories.”

Air quality in some northern parts still showed heavy pollution today. The PM2.5 levels hit as much as 438 in Harbin and 306 in Shijiazhuang, according to data from the China National Environment Monitoring Center.

— With assistance by Aipeng Soo, and Feifei Shen

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