Burning of farm straw has capital choking

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 July, 2017, 8:58am

Farmers in Hebei blamed for the worst pollution seen in Beijing for six years

Hebei farmers burning large quantities of wheat straw recently have caused Beijing's most polluted day in six years.

Satellite pictures from Beijing's Environmental Protection Bureau showed farmers in neighbouring Hebei province were burning wheat straw last week. A strong southwesterly wind blew huge clouds of smog over all five southern districts of the capital on Tuesday night, choking residents, who called in with complaints and inquiries from 7pm.

'Air quality monitoring stations in these districts showed that the density of inhaleable particles reached 500 to 900 micrograms per cubic metre, while some places in Fangshan district reached 1,500 micrograms per cubic metre,' the bureau announced yesterday.

The density of pollutants temporarily reached six to nine times normal levels in some areas of southwestern Beijing, the Beijing News reported. The newspaper quoted Environmental Protection Bureau vice-chief Du Shaozhong saying that Tuesday saw the most unbreathable weather in the past six years.

'We reported to the State Environmental Protection Administration, which is co-ordinating with its Hebei counterpart to monitor straw burning, which is banned due to its serious pollution potential,' a bureau spokesman said.

A 34-year-old cyclist and resident of Daxing district complained that he could not open his eyes 'or breathe after the strange smog landed suddenly'.

'I had to rush back home to fetch a mask ... the air was just terrible,' he said, describing how the sky turned yellow and the air became pungent.

The National Meteorological Centre at the China Meteorological Administration last week detected 154 areas in Hebei where straw was being burned.

The Beijing government is rushing to increase the number of blue-sky days in the lead-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but dust from construction sites, vehicle exhaust and sandstorms from northern China have consistently kept goals from being met.

Jiang Gaoming , chief researcher at the Institute of Botany at the China Academy of Sciences, said straw burning had historically caused air pollution during harvest season.

Mainland farms produce 700 million tonnes of straw each year from crops such as wheat, corn, sweet potato, peanuts and beans. In the past, farmers saved it for burning in kitchen stoves, but these days, they use other fuel.

Reports had said airports and highways were blocked in some areas by the smoggy air, but the government had few effective methods for curbing the burning, only empty rules, Professor Jiang said. He suggested the straw be recycled as fodder for cattle.