BEIJING Jan 3 The Chinese capital was on the
second-highest orange smog alert in the depth of winter on
Tuesday as city officials said the air quality was improving
overall, citing data for the whole of last year.
Over the new year holiday, hundreds of flights were
cancelled and highways closed across northern China as average
concentrations of small breathable particles known as PM2.5
soared above 500 micrograms per cubic metre in Beijing and
Pollution alerts are common in northern China, especially
during bitterly cold winters when energy demand, much of it met
by coal, soars.
But the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau
told state media that PM2.5 concentrations dropped 9.9 percent
on the year to an average of 73 micrograms per cubic metre in
the Chinese capital in 2016.
The total number of "blue sky days" reached 198 in 2016, up
12 from the previous year. However, the average PM2.5 measure
still exceeded national air quality standards by 109 percent,
the bureau said.
Despite a brief respite on Monday, smog returned to the
Chinese capital on Tuesday, with PM2.5 readings again at
"hazardous" levels. The city environment bureau said the orange
alert was expected to last until Wednesday.
China is in the third year of a "war on pollution" aimed at
reversing the damage done to its skies, soil and water after
decades of untrammelled economic growth.
It has created emergency response systems that restrict
traffic and shut down factories and construction sites during
periods of heavy smog, and it has also vowed to punish local
officials and enterprises that break rules.
During a bout of smog in December, inspectors identified 21
enterprises that had violated regulations by failing to close
operations on time, and 10 more inspection teams were dispatched
to cities across the region over the new year.
But government officials have expressed frustration that
persistently heavy winter pollution, brought about by
unfavourable weather and the use of coal-fired urban heating
systems, has overshadowed the genuine progress China has made to
(Writing by David Stanway in Shanghai; Editing by Nick Macfie)