Beijing smog: Factories ordered to close or cut output

Old Summer Palace in smog on a polluted day as the authorities issued a red alert in Beijing, China, on Dec 17, 2016.
Old Summer Palace in smog on a polluted day as the authorities issued a red alert in Beijing, China, on Dec 17, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING • The Beijing city government has ordered 1,200 factories near the Chinese capital, including a major oil refinery run by state oil giant Sinopec, to shut down or cut output.

The call came after the authorities issued the highest possible air pollution alert, said a report yesterday.

China's environmental watchdog last Friday issued a five-day warning about choking smog spreading across the north, and ordered factories to shut down. It also recommended that residents stay indoors, and that traffic and construction work be scaled back.

Red alerts are issued when the air quality index, a measure of pollutants in the air, is forecast to breach the 200 mark for more than four days in succession, surpass 300 for more than two days or exceed 500 for at least 24 hours.

The Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Centre showed an air quality reading of 297 yesterday afternoon as haze started to envelop the capital, after an earlier reading of around 120. Levels in the 301 to 500 band are considered hazardous to health.

Red alerts are issued when the air quality index, a measure of pollutants in the air, is forecast to breach the 200 mark for more than four days in succession, surpass 300 for more than two days or exceed 500 for at least 24 hours.

Traffic on the city's roads was lighter than usual as residents complied with limits on car use. Many of the city's 22 million residents sat out the haze by staying home.

"I'll just take a rest and not go outside," said Beijing resident and teaching assistant Wang Jianan, 23.

With Christmas just a week away, others resorted to dark humour to help cope with the latest episode of toxic air. One Beijing resident posted a cartoon on WeChat, China's mobile messaging platform, showing Santa Claus on his sleigh almost completely obscured by smog, saying: "I can't find China."

The city's municipal government, in a statement, said Sinopec's 10 million tonne-a-year Yanshan refinery, a Shougang Group steel product plant, and a Cofco factory that makes instant noodles and crackers were among 500 companies it ordered to limit output. About 700 companies were ordered to suspend operations altogether.

The national environmental watchdog was sending more than a dozen inspection teams to check that factories and heavy manufacturing plants were complying with the crackdown, it said.

The hazardous air underscores the challenge facing the world's second-largest economy. The government is now battling pollution caused by the coal-burning power industry and other heavy industries after decades of breakneck economic growth.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 18, 2016, with the headline 'Beijing smog: Factories ordered to close or cut output'. Print Edition | Subscribe