Beijing officials issued a rare citywide alert on Friday due to severely high pollution levels. The alert that was issued was an “orange” level alert, placing bans and restrictions on outdoor barbecues, fireworks, and demolition work. Alerts like the one issued on Friday are made by the government when high levels of pollution are forecast not to let up within three days. This is the first time that an orange level alert has ever had to be issued in the city.
Beijing is familiar with having very high pollution levels in the city. Last month, extremely high levels of poisonous polluted air were recorded throughout the city. These readings showed that there were “2.5 particles exceeding 500 micrograms per cubic meter” – this measure refers to particulate matter, or the mixture of small particles (like soot from car and truck exhaust) with liquid droplets. Many researchers have linked particulate matter in pollution to many health conditions like asthma, laryngitis, heart conditions, and lung cancer.
The orange alert, however, is not the highest alert that can be issued. A “red” level alert would place restrictions on driving for over 2.5 million of the city’s cars. The second level orange alert asks that idle cars be turned completely off while also urging people to use public transportation, ride bicycles, and to avoid using motor vehicles as a whole.
China, a country which gained much of its global influence in industry and manufacturing, has recently been criticized for its lack of response towards the extremely high pollution levels in its cities. In a study done in 2012 by the European Commission and Netherlands Environmental Agency, China was estimated to account for over 35 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, with over 9.8 million tonnes of emissions. In another study done by the 2010 “Global Burden of Disease Study”, the extremely high levels of air pollution in China were found to be the fourth major leading cause of death in the country in 2010. Some figures released by the World Health Organization have estimated that there are over 1.3 million premature deaths across the world due to outdoor air pollution.
Although Beijing had to issue the citywide alert due to the severe levels of pollution on Friday, China has begun to take some precautionary steps in order to regulate the amount of pollution generated by cars and factories across the country. Earlier this month, the government set a goal to reduce particulate matter by at least 10 percent by 2017. There is even a government-funded service in the country which sends information to mobile phones so people can take precautionary measures to avoid contributing to the pollution, and to avoid breathing the toxic air in.
During the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, the government drastically reduced the amount of pollution in the city by closing down industrial factories and by restricting the amount of cars that were driven on the road. Researchers directly linked Beijing’s pollution to health problems when a study done during the Olympics showed that the reduction of pollution in the city led to a temporary boost in heart health in those who lived in the city.
Until restrictions are put into place regulating the amount of carbon emissions in the city, this may not be the last time that Beijing will have to issue a citywide alert due to severely high pollution levels. If pollution levels continue to go unchecked, Beijing may have to use the red alert in the future.
By Tyler Shibata