Smog thickens again in Beijing with pollution at danger levels
Beijing warned visibility could fall below 500m; huge coal plant in Inner Mongolia is shut down
Stephen Chen and Agence France-Presse
Air pollution spiked to dangerous levels again in Beijing yesterday, with skyscrapers vanishing amid the acrid smog and facial masks becoming so common they look like a new fashion trend.
Local weather authorities issued yellow alerts for both fog and smog - the third-highest level on a four-tier colour-coded warning system - indicating that visibility could drop below 500 metres, Xinhua reported.
It reported that the southern part of the capital was likely to see the densest smog, while visibility across most of the city remained below 3,000 metres.
By 4pm, the air pollution index in central Beijing exceeded 300, which the government rates as "hazardous", and an air monitoring station near a flyover in the Xicheng district recorded a level of 423.
A "hazardous" level over a 24-hour period is considered bad enough to make even healthy people ill.
Neighbouring cities also saw heavy smog. In Shijiazhuang , Hebei , the air pollution index exceeded 500.
Provincial authorities had to shut down several airports and nearly all highways as visibility dropped to less than 50 metres in nearly 20 cities and counties, according to China News Service.
With heavy smog blanketing much of the country this month, raising environmental concerns among the public - particularly over the use of coal - authorities in Inner Mongolia have halted production at a massive US$2.7 billion coal-to-chemicals plant found to be breaching environmental regulations.
The Shenhua Baotou project will not be allowed to reopen until it meets standards set by the Ministry of Environmental Protection, the National Business Daily reported.
The plant has been hailed as a "milestone project" by its owner, energy giant Shenhua Group, for pioneering the conversion of coal into other products.
Beijing weather forecasters said strong winds with speeds of 20 to 30 km/h were expected to blow through the capital last night and perhaps disperse the smog.
One meteorologist blamed snow this week for the latest smog woes.
Ma Xuekuan , chief forecaster with the National Meteorological Centre, told Xinhua that snow usually helps clean up Beijing's air, with suspended dust particles sticking to the snowflakes.
But the recent snow has melted quickly, releasing water vapour with fine particles attached, which had made the smog conditions worse.
There appears to be little relief for residents' lungs, as forecasters expect more smoggy days in the coming week due to a lack of Siberian winds.