BEIJING • China's capital city has issued its first major smog alert of the winter, triggering stringent measures to curb output of heavy industry as plunging temperatures spurred heating demand and the government launched another round of environmental checks.
The orange alert issued late on Thursday, the second-highest on China's four-level system, comes after Beijing was reported to have made big improvements in air quality last year as industrial activity shifted away from the capital.
The Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) warned in a statement that heavy air pollution would envelope Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei and the surrounding area from yesterday until Wednesday.
Under an orange alert, furniture and cement factories and other heavy industry must limit output by between 30 and 50 per cent. A list of firms in the capital affected contains more than 700 enterprises.
According to the forecast, southern areas of Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei, southern Shanxi, western Shandong and northern Hebei will experience toxic air from today to Monday. Air pollution on Monday will surge above the level that is nominally rated the maximum on the government's scale, the MEP said.
That would mean concentrations of small, breathable particles known as PM2.5 exceeding 250 micrograms per cu m, it said. The average concentration across the north in the final three months of last year was 71 micrograms.
Some 130 inspection teams will be sent out to make sure all emergency measures are strictly enforced, according to the MEP.
By noon yesterday, 37 cities across northern China had issued pollution alerts - 30 orange alerts and seven third-level yellow alerts.
In one example, the city of Tangshan, China's steelmaking hub, issued an orange level air pollution alert yesterday morning effective until midnight on Wednesday. It was its eighth such alert since the middle of November.
More cities, including Qingdao and Rizhao, have been ordered by provincial government to pay "close attention" to air quality and be prepared to issue emergency alerts when pollution arrives, according to statements put out by the local authorities.
The capital has been largely spared the notoriously bad air that typically blankets the north during the cold winter when people crank up the heat in their homes.
But this alert comes a month after the government was forced to reverse its ban on coal for heating as gas shortages left people freezing, amid a prolonged bout of icy weather in the north.