Vehicles are driven on the Third Ring Road in Beijing yesterday. REUTERS/Jason Lee
Air quality in Beijing was the "worst on record" this
weekend, according to environmentalists, as the city's
pollution monitoring centre warned residents to stay indoors
with pollution 30-45 times above recommended safety levels.
The Chinese capital, home to around 20 million people, has
been wrapped in thick smog since Friday, reducing visibility
and disrupting traffic.
Data posted today by the monitoring centre (www.bjmemc.com.cn) showed particulate
matter measuring less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter
(PM2.5) had reached more than 600 micrograms per square metre
at some monitoring stations in Beijing, and was as high as
900 on Saturday evening.
The recommended daily level for PM2.5 is 20, according to the
World Health Organisation. Such pollution has been identified
as a major cause of asthma and respiratory diseases.
"This is really the worst on record not only from the
official data but also from the monitoring data from the U.S.
embassy -- some areas in (neighbouring) Hebei province are
even worst than Beijing," said Zhou Rong, climate and energy
campaigner at Greenpeace.
The Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Centre said
heavy pollution had been trapped by an area of low pressure,
making it harder to disperse, and the conditions were likely
to last another two days.
Pollution has been identified as one of the biggest
challenges facing China's leaders, with outgoing president Hu
Jintao saying during his address to the Communist Party
Congress last November that the country needed to "reverse
the trend of ecological deterioration and build a beautiful
China said at the end of last year that it would begin
releasing hourly pollution data for its biggest cities.
Beijing has already committed to a timetable to improve air
quality in the city, and has relocated most of its heavy
industry, but surrounding regions have not made the same
commitments, said Zhou.
"For Beijing, cleaning up will take a whole generation but
other regions don't even have any targets to cut coal
burning. I bet the pollution here is mainly from those