SHANGHAI/BEIJING Dec 20 Heavy smog engulfed
large parts of northern China for a fourth straight day on
Tuesday, with the environment ministry warning that some firms
in the region were continuing to flout emergency restrictions
and dozens of flights out of Beijing cancelled.
Some power plants and chemical producers in the region had
not scaled back operations in line with regulations, and drivers
in Beijing had also been flouting traffic restrictions,
according to China Environmental News, the official publication
of the Ministry of Environmental Protection.
The paper said as many as 24 cities in northern China had
issued pollution "red alerts" by Tuesday but, despite the
implementation of emergency measures, smog concentrations had
continued to increase in parts of the region.
That included several major cities in the industrial
province of Hebei, which surrounds Beijing. Red alerts are
issued when the Air Quality Index (AQI) is forecast to exceed
200 for more than four days in succession, 300 for more than two
days or 500 for at least 24 hours.
In Handan, a major steel producer, the 24-hour average AQI
at one monitoring station reached a record 780, according to
environmental group Greenpeace.
"The scale of the red alert measures show that the Chinese
government is taking air pollution seriously," said Greenpeace
climate and energy campaigner Dong Liansai.
"However, the ongoing 'airpocalypse' is further evidence
that China must implement far stricter limitations on coal
consumption and accelerate the restructuring of the economy away
from the heavily polluting sectors," Dong said.
Pollution alerts have become increasingly common in China's
northern industrial heartland, especially during winter when
energy demand - much of it met by coal - skyrockets.
China declared a "war on pollution" in 2014 but the
government still faces significant challenges after decades of
breakneck economic growth, much of it based on the coal-burning
power sector and other heavy industry.
Official data from the Hebei provincial capital of
Shijiazhuang showed average readings of small breathable
particles known as PM 2.5, a different pollution gauge, had
risen to 665 micrograms per cubic metre by Tuesday morning.
The World Health Organization recommends concentrations of
just 10 micrograms.
Beijing Capital International Airport said on its microblog
that 181 flights had been cancelled by 8 a.m. (midnight GMT),
although 50 were able to operate. Flights had already been
affected at other airports, including in the neighbouring city
The airport officially blamed fog but PM 2.5 levels soared
to more than 450 micrograms per cubic metre in parts of the city
overnight, according to the Beijing government.
Outside operations have also been suspended at more than
3,000 construction sites in the capital, the Beijing housing
commission said on Tuesday.
The government said average PM 2.5 concentrations in the
first three quarters of 2016 dropped 8.5 percent compared with
the same period last year, but officials have expressed concern
that persistently heavy winter pollution has overshadowed
progress that has been made.
(Reporting by David Stanway and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Paul