Beijing chokes on off-the-charts air pollution as thick smog settles over northern China
Visitors, some wearing masks to protect themselves from pollutants, share a light moment as they take a selfie at the Jingshan Park on a polluted day in Beijing, China, on Dec. 7, 2015.(Andy Wong, AP)
A child wears a mask on a street shrouded in smog in Beijing, China, on Dec. 7, 2015.(How Hwee Young, EPA)
Smog hangs over Beijing’s main boulevard, Chang’an Avenue, looking west toward the Forbidden City, on Nov. 30, 2015.(Stuart Leavenworth, TNS)
Buildings are shrouded by heavily polluted haze in Beijing on Nov. 30, 2015.(Andy Wong, AP)
A woman uses a cloth to cover her face from pollutants as she walks past a construction building on a heavily polluted day in Beijing on Nov. 30, 2015.(Andy Wong, AP)
Chinese Paramilitary Police officers march through Tiananmen Square as the sun is seen on a day of heavy pollution on Nov. 30, 2015 in Beijing, China.(Kevin Frayer, Getty Images)
A Chinese man wears a protective face mask as he passes by the CCTV building on a day of heavy pollution on Nov. 30, 2015 in Beijing, China.(Kevin Frayer, Getty Images)
Choking smog blanketed Beijing on Nov. 30, 2015, in China.(Lintao Zhang, Getty Images)
A Chinese police officer wears a protective mask as he stands in a very hazy Tiananmen Square on Nov. 30, 2015 in Beijing, China.(Kevin Frayer, Getty Images)
A man wears a mask on a polluted evening on Nov. 30, 2015 in Beijing, China.(Lintao Zhang, Getty Images)
A Chinese woman wears a mask as she walks through a very hazy Tiananmen Square on Nov. 30, 2015 in Beijing, China.(Kevin Frayer, Getty Images)
A couple wear protective masks as they walk outside the Forbidden City on Nov. 30, 2015 in Beijing, China.(Kevin Frayer, Getty Images)
Beijing is choking on thick, brown smog after air pollution levels skyrocketed on Monday to more than 20 times what the World Health Organization considers to be safe. The oppressive pollution has prompted China to issue its highest air quality alert so far this year.
Reuters reported authorities blamed “unfavorable weather” and coal fires lit by the poor for heat in the winter for the oppressive smog. But that’s really only half the story - coal-fired power plants are also in overdrive since last week’s wintry blast. Temperatures were running as low as 25 degrees below normal for this time of year in northeast China for much of the past week. When the excessive power use for heating combined with stagnant high pressure, Beijing’s air quality took a nose-dive.
In terms of health effects, the air quality in Beijing and other parts of northeast China is off the charts. On Monday, the air quality index measured at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing reached a staggering 611 for small particulate matter. In the U.S., the EPA considers an index over 100 to be unhealthy. At an index over 300, the air quality “would trigger a heath warning of emergency conditions,” reads airnow.gov. “The entire population is more likely to be affected.”
Particle pollution of this tiny size, just 2.5 micrometers, is incredibly hazardous, and even more so at these extraordinary levels. According to the EPA, particles smaller than 10 micrometers are the most dangerous to health because they can embed deep in the lungs. Some of the particles are even small enough to enter the bloodstream directly through the lungs.
Pollution this extreme can cause premature death, aggravated asthma, irregular heartbeats and decreased lung function. Though the young, elderly and sick are particularly vulnerable to air pollution, levels this high harm even the healthiest of people.
An orange air quality alert was issued on Sunday, which required industry to cut production. A windy area of low pressure is forecast to sweep over northeast China on Tuesday and Wednesday which should help to alleviate the pollution concerns in Beijing.
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