Beijing air quality returns to hazardous levels as sandstorm, smog engulf city
Noxious cocktail forces residents in Chinese capital to take protective measures
Beijing’s air quality returned to hazardous levels on Wednesday after thick smog and a sandstorm engulfed the Chinese capital.
Pedestrians resorted to face masks and scarves to protect their mouths and noses as a cocktail of dust and smaller air pollutants blanketed the city.
At 8am, the average PM10 level was nearly 1,000 micrograms per cubic metre, while the PM2.5 concentration, the smaller dust particles deemed most harmful to health, was 238 micrograms per cubic metre. World Health Organisation guidelines state that an average PM2.5 reading of more than 25 microgrammes per cubic metre over a 24-hour period is unhealthy.
Authorities sent out a blue alert for dust in the early morning, after issuing an orange smog warning on Monday, which they said would remain in place until the end of Wednesday.
Chinese meteorological services classify warnings into four grades – blue, yellow, orange and red – with red being the most severe.
Residents were urged to reduce outdoor activities and take protective measures, while schools and kindergartens were advised to keep their pupils indoors.
The sandstorm originated in Mongolia and swept into Beijing early on Wednesday, the Municipal Environmental Monitoring Centre said.
Sandstorms usually hit Beijing during the spring when there are strong winds, but they rarely coincide with smog as it is usually dispersed by the wind.
The smog would disperse by the end of Wednesday, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment said, but the dust would last into Thursday.
The sandstorm had also affected central and southern parts of the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei area, known as Jingjinji, and northern regions of Henan province, it said.
Air quality in Jingjinji has been poor for most of the week, with pollution levels ranging from medium to heavy.
Pei Pengyi, a 33-year-old civil servant in Beijing, said the smog had made him sick.
“I was only outside for half an hour but my nose and throat were sore,” he said. “I don’t think the government is doing enough to protect people on polluted days.”
He said that rather than venturing out into the noxious air, people should take the day off from work or school and look after their health.
Unfortunately for Pei, the city’s rules state that workers can take a day off for health reasons only when a red smog warning has been issued.
When an orange alert is issued, companies involved in the manufacture of furniture or cement, and those in other heavy industries are required to reduce their output by between 30 and 50 per cent.