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Beijing air pollution

Hazardous smog could choke Beijing as residents celebrate Lunar New Year with fireworks

Environmental monitoring centre warns of rapid deterioration of air quality

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 January, 2017, 7:56pm
UPDATED : Friday, 27 January, 2017, 9:31pm

Beijing’s air quality could drop to hazardous levels when celebrations of the Lunar New Year holiday reach their climax with fireworks lighting up the sky at midnight on Friday, according to the municipal environmental monitoring centre.

Setting off large numbers of fireworks – a traditional way to celebrate the Lunar New Year throughout China – over a short period of time can worsen air quality quickly.

Following midnight of Lunar New Year’s eve in 2016, Beijing’s reading for PM 2.5 – fine suspended particles small enough to enter the lungs – exceeded the air quality index level to 699 micrograms per cubic meters at 2am and hazardous concentrations of more than 300 micrograms per cubic meter lingered for seven to eight hours, according to the centre.

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A report published by the Ministry of Environmental Protection on Thursday monitored the air pollution levels of 74 cities across China from 2014 to 2016 during China’s Lunar New Year holiday, which typically runs for two weeks from Lunar New Year’s eve to the Lantern Festival. It showed there was a strong chance of harmful air pollution overnight on the eve of the holiday, mainly caused by setting off fireworks.

The report said the top three cities with the highest hourly concentration of PM 2.5 at midnight on the holiday in 2016 were Hohhot, the capital of Inner Mongolia (957 micrograms per cubic meters); Handan, Hebei Province (748 micrograms); and Langfang, also in Hebei (702 micrograms).

The ministry warned that northern China could face three rounds of severe air pollution between January 27 and February 2 because of unfavourable weather conditions.

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In a bid to tackle air pollution, more than 440 mainland cities have banned fireworks and 764 cities have imposed related restrictions, according to a notice from the ministry of public security.

Beijing only approved 511 sites to sell fireworks this year, 208 fewer than last year, and shrank the sales period from 20 to 10 days. It also encouraged government officials and cadres working at state-owned companies to be role models by not using fireworks during the holiday. The Shanghai government only approved seven sites to sell fireworks this year.

The penalties for disobedience vary across cities. One of the strictest penalties is in the city of Baoding, in Hebei, one of the most polluted provinces in China, where anyone setting off large-scale fireworks without approval faces a fine of up to 50,000 yuan (US$7,265) and criminal charges if the fireworks lead to any injury or financial loss.