(Corrects attribution in 10th paragraph of story originally published Jan. 30.)
Apple Inc. (AAPL:US), JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM:US), Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. gave employees face masks, offered health tips and added office plants as pollution in Beijing hit hazardous levels for a 19th day this month.
Beijing’s city government recommended that its 20 million residents stay indoors for a second day as the local environmental monitoring center gave today’s air quality the worst rating on its six-level scale. A U.S. Embassy pollution monitor showed air quality in the Chinese capital reached hazardous levels for a fifth consecutive day.
Companies across Beijing have sought to protect the health of their current employees while facing the prospect of increasing difficulties in attracting others to a city grappling with pollution levels that Li Keqiang, set to become China’s next premier, has said will take time to reduce.
“Over the next few years the quality of life in Beijing will be something that has an impact on salaries,” said Simon Lance, Shanghai-based regional director at Hays Plc. The company has previously helped JPMorgan, Barclays Plc, and other companies with hiring, according to its website.
The concentration of PM2.5, the fine air particulates that pose the greatest human health risk, was 251 micrograms per cubic meter at 5 p.m., compared to 302 at 10 a.m., according to the U.S. Embassy monitoring station. The PM2.5 reading near Tiananmen Square was 272 at 6 p.m. and had averaged 260 in the past 24 hours, according to the Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center. The World Health Organization recommends 24- hour exposure to PM2.5 of no higher than 25.
Shanghai issued a haze warning today, advising those with respiratory problems to avoid going outdoors. The concentration of PM2.5 in the municipality was at 211 at 5 p.m. and averaged about 223 in the past 24 hours, according to the Shanghai Environmental Monitoring Center.
Toyota has put more green plants in its Beijing offices to help with air quality, spokesman Liu Peng said by phone. The carmaker’s offices, opened in October and home to about 400 workers, are equipped with one air purifier for every two workstations, Liu said.
JPMorgan (JPM:US) has provided health tips and distributed emergency kits that include masks to its employees in Beijing, spokeswoman Lisa Liang said by e-mail. The bank’s management is closely monitoring the situation and “exploring other options,” she said.
Honda has provided face masks to about 100 staff at its China headquarters in Beijing, Zhu Linjie, its Beijing-based spokesman said by phone.
At Apple’s (AAPL:US) retail store on Beijing’s Xidan Avenue, just four of the outlet’s more than four dozen sales people were wearing face masks today. Spokeswoman Carolyn Wu confirmed by phone that the maker of iPhones and iPads had distributed masks to its workers in the city, where the company has three stores.
None of the workers at the nearby Hennes & Mauritz AB, Adidas AG and Fast Retailing Co. outlets were wearing masks. Fast Retailing will consider appropriate action in the future if necessary, the maker of the Uniqlo clothing brand said in an e- mail.
Elevated PM2.5 levels contributed to 8,572 premature deaths in the cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Xian last year, according to a study released by Greenpeace and Peking University’s School of Public Health. Beijing this month proposed rules that would increase fines for vehicle emissions and force more factory shutdowns when smog reaches dangerous levels, as officials stepped up efforts to fight pollution.
China should strengthen efforts to conserve energy and uphold its environmental responsibilities, according to statement today following a State Council meeting chaired by Premier Wen Jiabao.
The nation seeks to control energy consumption at around 4 billion tons of standard coal equivalent a year in 2015, according to the statement. The National Development and Reform Commission said in May the limits will be within 4.1 billion tons for the five years within 2011 to 2015.
Beijing’s pollution has the potential to “discourage” senior executives from moving to the Chinese capital and to prompt those already here to leave, said Lance of Hays.
“Beijing as an international city will be compared with other international cities,” Lance said in a Jan. 22 interview.
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