Beijing Smog Levels Soar


On Thursday Beijing smog levels soared above 500 micrograms per cubic meter. Many people in Beijing stayed indoors on Thursday as the pollution level exceeded acceptable standards. The levels prompted officials to recommend limiting outdoor activities. The Chinese consider this week’s levels as an increase in the pollution level rising from “serious” to “hazardous.” In other words, the smog reading was well over China’s PM2.5 level, the level recently established by Chinese officials which is not collaborative with the World Health Organization’s table of acceptable pollution levels in regards to the public health.

The discrepancy between the levels of the official Chinese pollution levels and the World Health Organization pollution levels is large. In 2013 the Chinese set their PM2.5 level at 115 micrograms per cubic meter rather than remain at the 75 micrograms per cubic meter. The World Health Organization advises exposure at more than 25 micrograms per cubic meter be limited to a 24 hour period.

At the highest level, Thursday saw a recorded peak of 613 micrograms per cubic meter, the biting air spurring Beijing residents to stay indoors when possible. Citizens armed themselves with face masks and water bottles. There wasn’t much more to do. Practically speaking, not many long-term measurements have been taken to attempt to reduce the smog in China. The re-evaluation of the acceptable smog level by officials setting it at a higher micrograms per cubic meter reveals that the problem is not going be easily fixed. After excessive levels were record in the north of the country last year, Beijing announced measures to curb pollution in China closing more than 8,345 northern companies emitting high levels of pollution.

The pollution levels are the highest in the north where the steel industry, among others factories, is well established. The province of Hebei contains seven of the 10 most polluted cities in China. It is anticipated that steel production and coal usage in Hebei province will be reduced in 2014 to lower crippling smog levels. Before the 2008 Summer Olympics, Beijing pollution levels soared to considerable levels raising concern for the athletes’ health. The Chinese government attempted to significantly reduce the smog levels enacting many temporary smog reducing provisions before the athletes’ arrived in order to achieve acceptable air quality levels. Most commentaries proclaimed the 2008 Olympics in Beijing an environmental success.  Many people were advised to travel to Beijing in the wake of the games as the air was considered at the cleanest levels in years.


Beijing’s smog levels soar particularly in the winter time as opposed to the summer. The cold northern winter requires citizens to heat their homes and the overwhelming majority heat their homes by  using coal. The rise in coal usage contributes greatly to the reduced air quality in the capital. The Chinese government, having experienced the summer Olympics, has applied to become a participant in the competition to garner the 2022 Winter Olympics prompting skeptics to ask how the Chinese plan to reduce the air pollution in time.

By Persephone Abbott


New York Times

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