Air quality in Shanghai, China’s financial center, deteriorated as Beijing residents saw a return of “long-lost” blue skies following 20 days of hazardous pollution last month.
The concentration of PM2.5, fine air particulates that pose the greatest human health risk, rose to 120.7 micrograms per cubic meter at 4 p.m. in Shanghai from an average of 66 in the past 24 hours, the city’s environmental monitoring center said. Levels near Beijing’s Tiananmen Square fell to 21 from an average of 63, according to the capital’s monitoring center.
Record levels of pollution in Beijing have sparked public criticism of the government’s management of the environment, prompting Li Keqiang, set to become China’s next premier, to call for the nation to have patience as authorities work to reduce emissions. Peak readings from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing exceeded the World Health Organization’s recommendation for 24- hour exposure of no higher than 25 every day last month.
Air quality in Beijing improved today after a cold spell bringing precipitation dispelled fog and haze in central and eastern parts of the country, the China Meteorological Administration said.
“Beijing welcomed long-lost blue skies this morning,” the weather agency said in an e-mailed report. “The fog and haze that’s persisted for days will end its domination of the central and eastern regions,” it said. Snow and rain will fall in those areas in the next two days, the weather agency said.
The U.S. Embassy’s PM2.5 reading in Beijing was labeled “good” at 15 micrograms per cubic meter at 4 p.m. PM2.5 refers to airborne pollutants smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, which are able to penetrate deep into lungs and even the blood stream, raising risks of heart and lung diseases. January’s daily average was 196 micrograms per cubic meter, with an intraday high of 886 on Jan. 12.
The level of PM2.5 as measured by the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai was 120 at 4 p.m. and air quality was “unhealthy.”
Exposure to PM2.5 contributed to 8,572 premature deaths in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Xi’an in 2012, according to estimates by Greenpeace and Peking University’s School of Public Health. The burning of coal is the main source of pollution in Beijing, accounting for 19 percent, while vehicle emissions contribute 6 percent, the report said.
China added more cars last year than the total number plying its roads in 1999, the Ministry of Public Security said in a Jan. 30 statement on its website. The vehicle population reached 240 million last year, of which 120 million were passenger cars, it said.
‘Scarier’ Than SARS
“Air pollution is a combination of the external and internal environment, and it is much scarier than SARS,” Zhong Nanshan, the Chinese government’s official expert during the 2003 outbreak of the virus causing Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, told state television on Jan. 30. “You can isolate SARS patients, but nobody can escape air pollution.”
Beijing’s air last month was similar to that in an airport smoking lounge, based on comparisons with data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
The Chinese capital has closed factories and ordered some government cars off its streets in a bid to reduce emissions.
Beijing’s traffic management bureau caught more than 800 official cars breaking the ban, the Beijing Times reported yesterday, citing Wu Dacang, a deputy director at the Beijing government’s general office. Relevant government departments will investigate the agencies that own those vehicles, the newspaper reported without citing anyone.
Ensuring that pollution rules are strictly followed is the first step in “winning the battle,” the China Daily newspaper said in an editorial today.
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