• Sat
  • Dec 20, 2014
  • Updated: 7:25am

High pollution levels hit Beijing at Golden Week’s close

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 October, 2013, 12:19pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 October, 2013, 12:27pm

A cloud of pollution descended over Beijing at the weekend, shrouding the city and its famous cultural landmarks in a thick haze amid a US warning against physical activity outdoors.

The Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center said on its website Sunday that pollution levels in the city’s six core districts was at 225-245.

According to a table carried in the state-run Beijing News daily, such a reading corresponds to Level 5 on the pollution scale. Anything above 300 is Level 6, China’s highest.

Readings posted by the United States embassy, however, were much higher.

In an email message to American citizens Sunday morning, the embassy said that readings on its Air Quality Index (AQI) “have averaged over 300 in the 24-hour period beginning at 8.00pm on October 4, and were over 400 overnight”.

The embassy added that based on recommendations by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), AQI levels surpassing 301 “are considered hazardous” with the EPA recommending that amid such readings “everyone should avoid all physical activities outdoors”.

A photo on the front page of the Beijing News showed the city’s Forbidden City -- once home to China’s emperors and a major tourist site -- enveloped in thick haze on Saturday.

The pollution comes as China’s annual Golden Week national holiday approaches its final day Monday and while Beijing and environs are hosting major international sporting events.

The final of the China Open tennis tournament was set for Sunday in Beijing, while the Reignwood LPGA Classic women’s golf tournament was scheduled to enter its final round.

Separately, Sunday also marks the opening ceremony for the East Asian Games athletics meet in Tianjin, 135 kilometres southeast of the capital.

Cities across China have been hit by intense air pollution in recent years, much of it caused by emissions from coal-burning power stations, with levels of small particles known as PM2.5 reaching as high as 40 times World Health Organization limits this year.

China’s pollution problems are blamed on rapid urbanisation, dramatic economic development and climatic factors. Pollution tends to worsen as winter approaches. Earlier this year, pollution levels soared with the US embassy’s AQI soaring above 500.

Pollution has been linked to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths, and has tarnished the image of Chinese cities including Beijing, which saw an almost 15 per cent drop in tourist visits during the first half of this year.

China vowed in September to reduce levels of atmospheric pollutants in Beijing and other major cities by as much as 25 per cent to try to improve their dire air quality.

China’s State Council, or cabinet, said at the time that “concentrations of fine particles” in the capital’s air will fall by “approximately 25 per cent” from 2012 levels by 2017.


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The traffic in the city has been light, the demand for electricity relatively low (unlike winter or summer), and the communal heating stations stay off until late November. So the culprit? Dust - dry dusty north China - even Marco Polo complained about it, I'm told. The Air was better on the 1st, the Sun appearing amid cloud and blue patches pm, and really quite good on the 2nd - clear skies aided by a light breeze (but then "Good news is no news" to fit that old saying to our modern times) - by the 3rd the breeze dropped..... and the builders on sites large and small all over the city, eager to get back in action after two days off (presumably with out pay) - got back in action. The breeze died and for the next three days the dust in the air just built and built. No smell of coal in the air, like in the winter, just dust, coating everything - and it's unfortunate for the (presumably then mostly holidaying) employees of the US government that they built their new embassy in one of the city's biggest dust traps, just off the North East Third Ring - when I pass down Tianze Lu I "don't inhale" (too much) - not a political comment, just that the air is not quite so bad if you go a block North, South or East - or two blocks west into Sanlitun. Except for those bloody builders! It is certainly man made and unpleasant and quite possibly harmful but is all the dust "pollution"? and what in the climate, seasonal or financial, is driving this autumn's building frenzy?


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