China pollution

Severe smog in north China grounds flights, closes highways and suspends production

Air quality at hazardous levels and not forecast to clear until Wednesday

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 December, 2016, 8:02pm
UPDATED : Monday, 19 December, 2016, 10:24am

Severe smog that has shrouded the northern port city of Tianjin has caused flights to be grounded and closed highways, local transportation authorities said on Sunday.

The city’s weather bureau issued an orange alert – the second highest in a four-tier system – for air pollution on Sunday morning as a new bout of smog began, Xinhua reported.

The bureau said the density of pollutants would reach its peak on Sunday and Monday.

Most air quality monitoring stations in the city warned of severe air pollution on Sunday morning. Air quality index (AQI) readings at some points even exceeded 400.

As of Sunday morning, 35 flights had been delayed or cancelled at Tianjin Binhai International Airport. All highways in and out of the city, except one, were closed due to extremely low visibility.

The city’s environmental protection department has strengthened inspections to control sources of pollution.

More than 20 cities in northern China, including Beijing, activated alerts and corresponding measures to address the smog that has hit the region since Friday night.

Meteorological authorities said the smog would not disperse until Wednesday.

In Beijing, more than 1,200 factories in the printing, construction materials and petrochemical industries citywide have suspended or scaled down productions.

Under a contingency plan for severe air pollution, the city shut down more than 700 plants with production procedures that pollute the air and required 500 more to reduce production, according to a statement posted on the municipal government website on Saturday. Beijing Jingmei Chemical Industry and an oil refinery plant of China Petroleum & Chemical Corp were among the factories to cut output, while a BBMG Corp subsidiary’s mortar plant was among those closed.

Beijing acting mayor Cai Qi was quoted by the Beijing Daily on Sunday as saying that public transport services would be stepped up as private cars were allowed to drive only on alternate days – depending on whether the number plate of their vehicle ended in an odd or even number.

“Tackling smog is a long-term battle. We should review the effectiveness of our measures after the emergency is over,” he said. “More forceful measures should be taken next year to tackle air pollution.”

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Visibility is expected to reduce to less than 1km in Beijing, Tianjin, and Hebei, Shanxi and Shaanxi provinces over the next few days.

The PM2.5 pollutant concentration in some of the sites is expected to exceed 500, which is considered hazardous.

The environmental ministry has sent inspectors to six provinces to ensure contingency measures are properly implemented, the Beijing News reported on Sunday.

The severe air pollution has led to public discontent across the country, raising government concern over social unrest.

Additional reporting by Bloomberg