Beijing Issues Air Pollution Red Alert for the First Time

  • City raises alarm with pollution less severe than last week
  • The alert is effective from 7 a.m. Dec. 8 to noon Dec. 10

Beijing smog on Dec. 1, 2015.

Photographer: Wang Zhao/AFP via Getty Images

Beijing issued its most severe smog warning for Tuesday -- the first time the municipal government has issued a so-called red pollution alert -- after acrid-smelling haze returned to the Chinese capital.

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Local authorities upgraded the air pollution alert to red from orange, effective from 7 a.m. Dec. 8 to noon Dec. 10, according to a statement on Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau’s official Weibo Monday. Some industrial companies must stop or limit production, outdoor construction work will be banned and primary schools and kindergartens are advised to cancel classes, the statement said. Even healthy people should try to avoid outdoor activity and choose public transportation.

The move was remarkable because Beijing’s smog on Monday, while severe, was less intense than the pollution that struck the capital last week when the government kept the alert level at orange. The concentration of PM2.5 -- particulate considered the must dangerous to people’s health -- was 208 micrograms per cubic meter at 6 p.m. near Tiananmen Square, compared to 666 micrograms per cubic meter last week, according to the Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center.

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“The red alert shows the local government has stepped up efforts to protect citizens from pollution,” said Dong Liansai, climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia. “It’s probably because of pressure from the central government.”

Clear skies aren’t expected again until after the smog peaks Wednesday, according to the China National Environment Monitoring Center.

Monday’s bad air, coupled with five days of hazardous pollution on Nov. 27-Dec. 1, raised fresh concern about the government’s ability to tackle air quality despite repeated statements from leaders that cleaning up the environment in the country is a top priority. Last week, the concentration of fine particulates that pose the greatest risk to human health rose to 666, more than 25 times World Health Organization-recommended levels.

Factory Discharges

The latest round of bad air was the result of “factory discharges and unfavorable weather conditions,” the state-run China Daily reported, citing National Meteorological Center Senior Engineer Xue Jianjun. China will strengthen inspections of polluting factories, Environmental Protection Minister Chen Jining said, according to China Daily.

China urged local governments to start emergency measures to cope with the pollution, according to a statement on the Ministry of Environmental Protection on Sunday. Emissions from automobiles are the main contributor to Beijing’s smog, the ministry said on Dec. 1.

China should strengthen checks on vehicular emissions, said Yan Ziqing, a director of the Chinese Society for Environmental Sciences. About 10 percent of the nation’s vehicles that exceed the environment ministry’s standards still run on the road, resulting in more pollution, she said.

Last week, Beijing’s traffic authority said it would consider a congestion fee to ease traffic and smog in the city. The idea was met with impatience from China Daily’s editorial page, which said such a fee should have been put in place long ago.

“The severity of the city’s traffic and pollution problems leaves no time for policymakers to postpone such moves,” the newspaper said.

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— With assistance by Judy Chen, and Feifei Shen

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