Smog and fog raise health fears

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 December, 2011, 12:00am


Thick fog and smog that have blanketed much of northern China over the past three days are likely to persist at least until tomorrow, meteorological authorities warned yesterday.

Hundreds of flights were cancelled in Beijing and most roads in the capital's eastern and southern regions were forced to close because of poor visibility.

Traffic disruption was also widely reported in northern provinces. The airport in Jinan, capital of Shandong, closed for more than 24 hours over the weekend, Xinhua reported. Visibility in many regions was less than 200 metres.

China News Service reported that fog caused a massive traffic jam that began on Saturday night near Huludao in Liaoning and stretched for 80 kilometres.

Heavy fog also hit Zhejiang, Fujian and Jiangxi, Xinhua reported.

Amid increasing fear and panic by many Beijingers over worsening air quality, medical experts issued warnings about the health risks associated with dense, choking smog.

Online sales of medical masks surged dramatically over the weekend. At least 30,000 masks were sold by one online shop at on Saturday alone. That represented a nearly sixfold increase in the shop's total sales from last month, according to a report on the news portal

More than 80 per cent of the buyers were from the capital, as many Beijingers have been scrambling to find ways to cope with appalling air pollution that has reduced air quality to its worst levels since before the Olympics.

Pollution readings from the municipal environmental bureaus also partly confirmed the fears.

The reading of PM10 particles, those at least 10 microns in diameter, peaked on Sunday night at 437 micrograms per cubic metre, considered 'very polluted' by national standards.

Pollution readings of fine particles - those less than 2.5 microns in diameter, also known as PM2.5 - from the US embassy hit 522 micrograms per cubic metre that night, exceeding the air pollution index's maximum rating of 500.

Readings above 300 are considered 'hazardous for the entire population', based on US government standards.

Du Shaozhong, a spokesman and deputy director of Beijing's environmental bureau, admitted on his microblog on Sunday night that the city's pollution had got worse.

He advised vulnerable people with health problems, especially those with asthma, high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases, to stay indoors.

Despite his personal warning, the air pollution index released by Du's office, which measures key pollutants not including health-threatening PM2.5 and ozone, showed the city's air quality was only 'slightly polluted'.

Zhang Mingying with the city's weather bureau was quoted yesterday by the Beijing Evening News as dismissing concerns about pollution.

'What we have seen is definitely fog, which has nothing to do with environmental pollution,' Zhang said.

Environmentalists have long warned that authorities' continued secrecy over key pollution data on smog-related pollutants has fuelled public distrust in the government.