UK & World News
Beijing Pollution 'Hazardous' For Fourth Day
Sunrise in Beijing on Monday revealed a marginally clearer skyline, but pollution remains at levels considered 'hazardous' for a fourth consecutive day.
According to an air quality monitor on the roof of the American Embassy in the Chinese capital, the Air Quality Index (AQI) at 8am was 406. Anything above 300 is considered 'hazardous'.
One father standing with other concerned parents at the gates of Yong'anli Primary School in central Beijing told Sky News: "I'm very worried.
"The air is so dirty that we must wear face masks, otherwise all these particles go into our nose and lungs - that's very bad for our children's health."
Another said: "I'm worried. There are too many cars,on the roads every day. The car fumes pollute the air we breathe."
One grandmother, who was dropping off her grandson, she said she could not remember pollution levels so high in her many years living in Beijing.
She said: "The air pollution has never been this bad, look at the roads now, so many cars, so much pollution, and so many people."
According to the World Health Organisation, levels of the smallest pollution particles, called PM2.5, should not be more than 25 micrograms (mcg). At levels of 100mcg, the air is considered unhealthy.
But according to the Beijing Municipal Environment Monitoring Centre, on Saturday the figure rose to above 900mcg in several parts of the city. PM2.5 particles are small enough to enter the lungs and the blood stream and are considered particularly dangerous.
The Chinese government only started to publish its own air quality figures in early 2012 but many believe there is still a level of denial at an official level about the scale of the problem. The official Chinese air quality reading is frequently lower than the US Embassy figure.
However, levels over the weekend made it hard for the state-run media to ignore the problem.
"The foreign media is laughing at us. I agree with their laughter," said Hu Xijin, the editor of the state-run Global Times newspaper on Weibo, China's version of Twitter.
"This is a warning to the Government and Beijing's citizens. We have to think about what kind of modernisation we want and how to manage it."
Discussion of the problem and criticism of the government was widespread on internet forums, including Weibo.
"I call for the cancellation of all cars except for family use and special use. We should all use public transport, and the officials should do so to set examples to ordinary people," one user wrote.
"It must be heavy pollution here in Beijing. I heard 50% of cancer patients in Beijing are lung cancers, the dirty air must be largely responsibility," another wrote.
"I suddenly got a fever last night. It must be because of the air pollution. Now my throat really hurts, and I can't even breath outside. How could I carry on living??!!" said another.
Throughout the weekend on Beijing's streets it was hard to see more than around 150m. The skyscrapers which dominate parts of the city were barely visible.
Yu Jianhua, from the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau, said the current weather conditions have been preventing the smog from dispersing.
"Beijing has got warmer and wetter. We are facing large quantities of polluting emissions and they are not diffusing very quickly. The air is severely polluted," he said.
The slightly improved visibility on Monday might partly be due to an order to shut certain factories around the city. Wind levels have increased and the temperature has dropped, which will also help disperse the blanket.
According to the state news agency, Xinhua, 28 construction sites have stopped work, the Beijing Hyundai Motor Company has stopped work and Beijing Cement Plant Company has shut down one production line.
Authorities have been urging people to use public transport rather than their own vehicles to reduce emissions but even Beijing's underground network is affected. The smog was visible hanging in the air at a number of station platforms on Saturday.
Last year, the Chinese government asked the American Embassy not to publish the figures from its monitor. The Americans refused, insisting that the information was for the benefit of its personnel.
US spokesman Nolan Barkhouse told Sky News: "By recording pollution and publishing the results we are providing members of the mission community and the broader American community in China with information so that they can make better daily decisions about their outdoor activities."
The health implications from the pollution may be obvious, but there is an important political dimension to the issue too. China's Communist Government is unelected. Of the thousands of daily protests around the country, a significant proportion are linked to environmental concerns.
If the public perception is that the local and central government is not tackling the issues, it could present one of a number of challenges for the Communist Party.