Beijing Reopens Schools as Smog Eases After Pollution Red Alert

  • Contamination levels fall below WHO threshold in city center
  • Jump in pollution coincided with Paris climate change talks

Beijing authorities reopened schools and eased travel restrictions after the thick smog that blanketed the city and prompted the first-ever red-alert warning for air pollution began to thin.

The concentration of PM2.5 pollution, considered the most dangerous to health, stood at 15 micrograms per cubic meter as of 4 p.m. Thursday near Tiananmen Square, according to the Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center. That compares to an average level of 207 micrograms over the past 24 hours.

The red alert, which forced the closing of schools, the shutting of some factories and driving restrictions, was imposed on Dec. 8 for the first time since introduction of an emergency air-pollution response system in 2013. Pollution levels jumped in the city earlier this month, with PM2.5 levels exceeding 500 micrograms per square meter.

That surge in smog coincided with United Nations-led talks on climate change in Paris, where President Xi Jinping reiterated his pledge for sweeping reductions in carbon emissions that may help smooth a global deal. China’s smog is a cost of three-decades of breakneck economic growth that lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty. Toxic air now causes as many as 4,000 deaths a day, according to a study earlier this year by Berkeley Earth, an independent research group.

The smog also contributes to other types of fatalities. Low visibility was blamed for a 33-car pileup that killed six and injured four on a highway in the northern province of Shanxi on Tuesday, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

While Beijing officials can move to reduce the severity of outbreaks with local driving and production restrictions, a long-term solution involves overhauling dirty industries beyond the city limits. Many local governments are loathe to limit the factories that drive their local economies.

— With assistance by Keith Zhai, and Hui Li

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