Dragon arrives in a choking cloud

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 January, 2012, 12:00am


More than just festive spirits were running high as the mainland celebrated the Lunar New Year: the blaze of fireworks set off a spike in air pollution in major cities.

In parts of Beijing, levels of small particulate matter leapt to a high of almost 1,600 micrograms per cubic metre in the early hours of Monday morning, roughly 80 times the pollution level of the previous evening, as residents engaged in a frenzy of pyrotechnics to ring in the arrival of the dragon, The Beijing News reported.

In Shanghai, gunpowder-fuelled revelry also drove readings of PM2.5 - particles 2.5 microns or less in diameter, which can lodge in the lungs - to a peak of 245 micrograms per cubic metre, while the level of larger PM10 particulate hit 318 micrograms per cubic metre, local media reported.

The spikes show that, despite rising public anger about rapidly worsening smog, environmental campaigners have their work cut out in the long-running campaign to persuade mainlanders to use fewer fireworks in order to reduce air pollution.

Activists turned to social media networks yesterday to continue pushing for an end to what many described as the 'firecracker siege', an annual orgy of explosives that sometimes lasts more than two weeks, and appealing to fellow citizens to 'give us back clear skies' for a green new year.

In contrast to the pollution spikes, there was some evidence that the concept was perhaps starting to gain traction. The Oriental Morning Post in Shanghai reported that fireworks produced 970 tonnes of litter in the city on Sunday night, a slight drop from the more than 1,000 tonnes produced on the eve of the last lunar new year.

The capital began releasing hourly updates of three main air pollution readings earlier this month, extending the reports to include PM2.5 just days ahead of the Lunar New Year.

Shanghai has also pledged to begin releasing PM2.5 readings this year - the city has been monitoring them since 2005, but rarely makes them public - before the system is rolled out nationwide.

The municipality's mayor, Han Zheng, admitted last week that PM2.5 levels had increased significantly over the past decade, and that they now account for 50 to 60 per cent of airborne particulate. 'We must implement monitoring and publish the results as soon as possible. We cannot be ostriches, and even more so cannot insist on saving face while the living suffer the consequences,' he said.