|The Forbidden City is shrouded in fog in Beijing, capital of China, Jan. 23, 2013. The air quality hit the level of serious pollution in Beijing on Wednesday, as smog blanketed the city. (Xinhua/Wang Shen)|
BEIJING, Jan. 23 (Xinhua) -- Air quality in Beijing hit dangerous levels again on Wednesday, with smog blanketing the city.
At 3 p.m., air quality indices at most monitoring stations in the city proper ranged from 311 to 400, a serious level, according to statistics from the Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center.
A high concentration of pollutants was detected moving from the southeast at 3 p.m. Tuesday before shrouding the entire city, said an official from the center.
Readings for PM2.5, or airborne particles measuring 2.5 microns or less in diameter that can deeply penetrate the lungs, reached 200 to 300 micrograms per cubic meter, indicating heavy pollution, he said.
The weather forecasting bureau has issued yellow alerts for both fog and smog, the third-highest level in China's four-tier color-coded weather warning system.
Visibility in south Beijing will fall below 500 meters on Wednesday and most of the city will see visibility drop to less than 3,000 meters.
Wu Xiao, a resident of south Beijing, said she has prepared a special mask that was purchased from overseas for her son.
Wu said the smog has sickened nearly her entire family. "My child has red eyes, my mother-in-law suffers from asthma and I also caught the 'Beijing cough'," she said.
The term "Beijing cough" has been in use since the 1990s among foreigners in reference to the chronic respiratory problems they began to experience after arriving in Beijing. But the term did not become more widely known until recently, when more health problems directly attributable to the current air pollution were reported.
Beijingers suffered from heavy smog from Jan. 10 to 16 before the pollution was dispersed by a cold front that brought strong winds. Air quality indices were off the charts during the seven days, exceeding the "maximum" level of 500 in the city, as well as in many other cities in central and north China.
According to weather forecasts, strong winds with speeds of 20 to 30 km per hour will sweep the city Wednesday night and are expected to disperse the smog.
Smog and air pollution control has become a hot topic at the ongoing annual legislative and political advisory sessions being held in the city.
At the first session of the 14th Beijing Municipal People's Congress on Tuesday, acting mayor Wang Anshun said in a work report that the density of major pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, has dropped by an average of 29 percent over the past five years.
The high percentage stirred debate among deputies on Wednesday, as the current smog could make residents suspicious over the truthfulness of the figure. Some deputies even advised deleting the reference from the report to avoid disputes from the public.
"Many people don't understand why the smog is still so serious, since pollutant density has decreased so much," said deputy Hu Min, a professor at the College of Environmental Sciences and Engineering under Peking University.
Hu explained at the session that previous air quality was measured on using the PM10 gauge instead of the current PM2.5 gauge, which is more strict.
She advised that the report should refer to the adoption of the stricter gauge while mentioning "major pollutants."
The work report, delivered on Tuesday, will be reviewed at the session and fine-tuned until a final version is ready to be released.
To reduce auto emissions, the environmental protection bureau said on Wednesday that the city will adopt a new standard for vehicle emissions starting Feb. 1.
New cars in Beijing will be subject to the new Beijing Standard V, which will be equivalent to the Euro V standard, said Fang Li, a spokesman for the bureau.
Other measures to be implemented this year will include taking 180,000 older vehicles off the road, promoting clean energy cars and closing some 450 heavily polluting plants, according to acting mayor Wang.