Beijing air pollution
The Chinese capital has for many years suffered from serious air pollution. Primary sources of pollutants include exhaust emission from Beijing's more than five million motor vehicles, coal burning in neighbouring regions, dust storms from the north and local construction dust. A particularly severe smog engulfed the city for weeks in early 2013, elevating public awareness to unprecedented levels and prompting the government to roll out emergency measures.
Chinese green squads to monitor war on smog in polluted cities
Environmental inspection teams will be sent to some of the most polluted cities near the capital to check on how they are tackling smog.
The initiative comes as weather officials said that over the past few days about 15 per cent of the country had been blanketed by pollution at levels hazardous to health.
The Ministry of Environmental Protection said 12 teams of inspectors would audit how local authorities were responding to severe smog. The findings would be publicised.
The move appears to be a response to a growing outcry over a failure to tackle the problem.
Watch: Chinese weather officials: 15 per cent of China blanketed in heavy smog
The inspections will focus on heavily polluting industries such as steel, coal, glass and cement, as well as construction sites and factories. They will cover Beijing, Tianjin and nearby cities in Hebei province.
But environmental activist and lawyer Wang Canfa was not impressed.
"The inspections will not be enough to quiet the public critics," he said. "The real solution needs a lot more than just inspections. It needs a fundamental change among decision makers at all levels to highlight pollution as the top priority."
All of the cities to be surveyed are among the seven with readings of PM2.5 over 250 micrograms per cubic metre in the past few days, the ministry said.
PM2.5 are the fine particles most harmful to health. Levels of PM2.5 have recently topped 150 in a further 19 cities. The World Health Organisation guideline is 25 micrograms per cubic metre.
The announcement of inspections came as Beijing issued another orange alert for heavy smog yesterday morning, the second day in a row.
Readings from both official and unofficial monitoring stations suggested that yesterday's air quality index in Beijing passed 300.
A thick haze reduced visibility so much that in some areas drivers had to turn on car headlights in the early afternoon.
The number of patients with respiratory illnesses in Beijing more than doubled over the weekend and people were advised to stay indoors.
The orange level is the second highest in a four-level system introduced in the capital last year. Schools and kindergartens are advised to cancel outdoor sports at this level.
The authorities in Shijiazhuang in Hebei said yesterday about 20 per cent of vehicles would be barred from entering the city centre because of high pollution levels. Sprinklers are being used to try to reduce levels of pollutants in the air.
Beijing has halted construction on a new metro line and many building projects in Hebei have reportedly been shut down.
The heavy pollution is expected to last until at least Thursday.