Beijing shuts factories, removes cars, but pollution stays high

BEIJING Tue Jan 29, 2013 5:36pm IST

A woman wearing a mask walks on a heavy haze day during winter in Beijing January 29, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Lee

A woman wearing a mask walks on a heavy haze day during winter in Beijing January 29, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Jason Lee

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BEIJING (Reuters) - Beijing temporarily shut down 103 heavily polluting factories and took 30 percent of government vehicles off roads to combat dangerously high air pollution, state media reported on Tuesday, but the capital's air remained hazardous despite the measures.

Air quality in Beijing has mostly stayed above "very unhealthy" and "hazardous" levels for about two weeks. On Tuesday, it hit 517 on an index maintained by the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, which described the pollution as "Beyond Index".

Pollution in Beijing regularly exceeds 500 on an index that measures particulate matter in the air with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers. Above 300 is considered hazardous, while the World Health Organisation recommends a daily level of no more than 20.

Earlier this month pollution hit a record, 30-45 times above recommended safety levels, blanketing the city in a thick, noxious cloud that grounded flights and forced people indoors.

Beijing's pollution problem has caused widespread public outrage, alarming the ruling Communist Party, which has failed to rein in pollution despite repeated pledges to get tough.

Premier Wen Jiabao told top leaders at a forum that the "recent fog and haze have affected the people's normal life and health".

"We should take effective measures to speed up the enhancement of our industrial structure, push for energy conservation and build an ecological civilisation," Wen was quoted as saying on state television. "Use actions so that the people can see hope."

State news agency Xinhua said the Beijing municipal government held an urgent meeting on Tuesday "for the emergency work of controlling the heavy air pollution".

"All counties, departments, businesses and institutions should take the lead in suspending the service of 30 percent of official vehicles," Xinhua said. Beijing would also shut down 103 heavily polluting businesses.

But the emergency measures only last until Thursday.

The government has already announced that it would take 180,000 old vehicles off the roads in Beijing this year and control the "excessive" growth of new car sales in the city. (Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Michael Perry)

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