Beijing Pollution Prompts Second Day of Warnings to Stay Indoors

Dec 24, 2013 11:05 pm ET

Dec. 25 (Bloomberg) -- Beijing residents were warned to stay indoors for a second day due to “severe” pollution as northern China remained cloaked in smog.

Air quality indexes in the cities of Shijiazhuang, Handan, Xingtai and Hengshui in Hebei province, which surrounds Beijing, and Xi’an in Shaanxi province, had reached the maximum of 500 at 11:00 a.m., data from the China National Environment Monitoring Center showed. At this “severe” level, the worst of six on the government’s scale, the young, elderly and ill should stay inside, and others should avoid outdoor activities.

With environmental concerns now a main cause of social unrest, Chinese authorities are seeking to cut coal use and the number of vehicles on the road. That means taking on industries that have created jobs and boosted economic growth while contributing to the pollution.

The air across the Chinese capital today was either “heavily” or “severely” polluted, according to the government scale. Pollution will begin to ease this afternoon, the Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center said on its website.

The concentration of PM2.5, fine particulates that pose the greatest health risk, was 262 micrograms per cubic meter at 11 a.m. near Tiananmen Square in Beijing, compared with an average of 294 over the past 24 hours, the center said. Levels of PM2.5 were as much as 941 in Xi’an and 833 in Shijiazhuang. The World Health Organization recommends 24-hour exposure to PM2.5 concentrations no higher than 25 micrograms per cubic meter.

Shanghai’s air quality index was 172 as of 11 a.m., indicating “moderate pollution” and prompting a warning for children and the elderly to avoid prolonged or heavy outdoor activities, the city’s environmental monitoring center said. The level of PM2.5 was 85.3 micrograms per cubic meter.

--Feifei Shen. Editors: Nathaniel Espino, Gregory Turk