Beijing breathing easy - for now

People came out in droves to enjoy clean air and clear skies in Beijing after the end of an orange alert for heavy air pollution. Air pollution has been a recurrent problem, especially in winter when coal-fired heating boilers rev up and the wind dro
People came out in droves to enjoy clean air and clear skies in Beijing after the end of an orange alert for heavy air pollution. Air pollution has been a recurrent problem, especially in winter when coal-fired heating boilers rev up and the wind drops.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Heavy smog disperses; minister points to vehicle emissions as main source of urban air pollution

BEIJING • Beijing residents who had been cloistered indoors for the past week came out in droves to enjoy clean air and clear skies yesterday, as a cold front dispersed the smog that had been hovering over Beijing since the beginning of the year.

The city lifted its orange alert for air pollution on Saturday night. Emergency measures such as vehicle restrictions and the suspension of factory production ended and construction work recommenced, according to the city pollution response headquarters.

Beijing has a four-tier alert system for pollution, with red the highest, followed by orange, yellow and blue. The orange alert means the air quality index is forecast to exceed 200 for three consecutive days.

During high alerts, heavy polluting vehicles and trucks carrying construction waste are banned from roads, and some manufacturing firms cut production.

Beijing issued an orange alert for air pollution on Dec 29. A weak cold front dispersed the smog briefly on Jan 2, but the city renewed the orange alert and extended it on Jan 4.

Blue skies are forecast for the next few days.

The ministry was evaluating 20 cities' emergency plans for dealing with heavy air pollution, hoping to improve their responsiveness... Inspections had found that some cities failed to take effective measures following smog alerts.

According to Beijing's air quality surveillance centre, air quality was "excellent" or "good" as of 10am yesterday, except in the southern Daxing district. The density of PM2.5 was less than 100 micrograms per cubic metre.

Smog has become northern China's biggest environmental issue in recent years, particularly in winter when coal-fired heating boilers rev up and the wind drops. Despite drops in pollution indicators, smog still occurs frequently.

China's Environment Minister said that he "felt guilty" and "wanted to reproach himself" as widespread air pollution had harassed people's lives. Mr Chen Jining made the remarks at a press conference late last Friday in Beijing, where he was speaking on China's efforts to prevent air pollution.

Since the beginning of last winter, heavy air pollution has been repeatedly observed in many places in China, covering large areas and lasting for long periods of time.

This has disrupted industrial production and interfered with people's everyday lives, Mr Chen said.

Detailed analysis showed that emissions from vehicles have become the primary source of urban atmospheric fine particles in major cities, accounting for 31.3 per cent in Beijing, 29.2 per cent in Shanghai and 28 per cent in Hangzhou, according to Mr Chen.

Fine particles are defined by the United States Environmental Protection Agency as having a diameter of up to 2.5 micrometres.

Substances that may form these particles come from power plants, industrial facilities, agricultural practices and motor vehicles, among others.

Mr Chen said the ministry was evaluating 20 cities' emergency plans for dealing with heavy air pollution, hoping to improve their responsiveness.

These cities include Beijing, Tianjin and 18 others in Hebei and surrounding provinces.

Inspections had found that some cities failed to take effective measures following smog alerts, he said.

The ministry will step up its supervision of local governments and monitor their implementation of the precautionary measures, according to Mr Chen.

He vowed to take concrete steps and employ more stringent and effective measures to deal with outstanding environmental problems.

China has made improvements in the environment despite strong headwinds, such as an economic structure burdened by heavy industry, an energy mix reliant on fossil fuels and environmentally unfriendly lifestyles, the minister said.

XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 09, 2017, with the headline 'Beijing breathing easy - for now'. Print Edition | Subscribe