Beijing on smog alert as choking winter looms
Beijing has issued its first orange smog alert ahead of the winter when air pollution levels usually soar in northern China as power is ramped up to fuel central heating systems.
The orange alert, the second highest in the capital’s four-tier air pollution warning system, was issued by Beijing’s meteorological authority, which is forecasting heavy air pollution until Tuesday night.
Severe air pollution was also recorded in five cities in Heilongjiang province in northeast China on Friday.
Among them was Shuangyashan on the border with Russia, which had the worst pollution in the country on Friday. The city had an air quality index of 476, a level deemed hazardous to health. Readings over 300 usually lead to a warning to avoid all exercise outdoors.
Another mining city in the province, Qitaihe, recorded the second-highest level of air pollution in China on Friday, posting 413 on its air quality index, followed by Jiamusi at 390, according to the Ministry of Environmental Protection.
Levels of PM 2.5, the small particulates in the air deemed most harmful to health, were reported to have reached hazardous levels in the province. Air pollution in the cities of Harbin and Jixi in Heilongjiang was categorised as “very unhealthy”.
In Beijing, vehicles with low level emission standards or trucks carrying construction waste have been banned from the capital’s roads from Saturday to Wednesday.
Construction and demolition work has also been banned outdoors during the period covered by the orange alert. Ministry inspectors will also step up checks for polluters in the capital.
China’s government pledged in 2014 to wage a war on pollution after decades of rapid economic growth caused massive environmental degradation.
A study carried out by Chinese, Israeli and American researchers published earlier this year suggested that smog created by burning coal reduced the length of people’s lives in northern China by an average of three years compared with people living in the south.
Beijing has sent out inspectors to 31 provinces over the past two years, resulting in the punishment of about 10,000 people for breaches of environmental protection regulations.
The State Council, China’s cabinet, issued an air pollution action plan in 2013 which set out detailed targets for air quality to be achieved this year. However, the government has admitted it will struggle to reach these goals.
The average air quality in China’s 338 largest cities worsened in the first eight months of the year compared with 2016.
Environment ministry figures show 78.3 per cent of days experienced “clean air”, down from 81.1 cent over the same period a year earlier.