Phootgraprapher: Greg Baker/AFP via Getty Images

Beijing’s Worst Smog This Year Prompts 351 Flight Cancellations

  • Schools and kindergartens closed because of health risks
  • China’s government sends red alert warning of ‘airpocalypse’

Beijing and other regions of north China were blanketed by the year’s worst bout of noxious smog, prompting officials on Tuesday to cancel 351 flight departures from the capital’s airport because of limited visibility.

The concentration of PM2.5 -- the particles that pose the greatest health risks -- was 402 micrograms per cubic meter near Tiananmen Square at 5 p.m. local time, according to the municipal air-monitoring website. The World Health Organization recommends PM2.5 exposure of no more than 25 micrograms over 24-hours.

Beijing Capital International Airport Co., the world’s second-busiest by passengers, reported the cancellations on its website and said another 44 departures were delayed as of 5:45 p.m. The canceled flights accounted for about 18 percent of scheduled departures Tuesday, according to the site.

The chronic air pollution has renewed calls for the government to take tougher actions to help clear the sky. More than 20 cities in North China including Beijing issued red alert warnings because of the severe pollution levels, prompting cities to restrict vehicle usage or halt or limit some industrial production, Xinhua News Agency reported on Dec. 19, citing people it didn’t identify.

“The scale of the red alert measures show that the Chinese government is taking air pollution seriously,” Dong Liansai, climate and energy campaigner of Greenpeace East Asia, said in an e-mailed statement.

“However, the ongoing ‘airpocalypse’ is further evidence that China must implement far stricter limitations on coal consumption and accelerate the restructuring of the economy away from the heavily polluting sectors,” Dong said.

Smog started to enshroud Beijing, Tianjin and the provinces of Hebei, Henan and Shandong over the weekend. It is forecast to clear Thursday.

The PM2.5 reading in Shijiazhuang, capital of Hebei, were as high as 674 micrograms per cubic meter as of 5 p.m. after exceeding 1,000 micrograms per cubic meter a day earlier, according to data from China National Environment Monitoring Center. The concentration levels in Zhengzhou, capital of central China’s Henan province, were as high as 382.

The education bureau in Zhengzhou on Tuesday ordered all kindergartens and primary and middle schools to cancel classes for the next two days to avoid damage brought by heavy pollution, according to a statement on the bureau’s website.

Northeast China’s Liaoning Province faced the most severe smog in seven years, with extremely poor visibility closing 18 expressways in the region, Xinhua reported.

— With assistance by Feifei Shen

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