BEIJING, Jan. 31 (Xinhua) -- Beijing has seen less air pollution on the eve of China's lunar New Year with less fireworks set off, the municipal environment watchdog said on Friday.
The Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center said that the air quality on the eve of the Spring Festival is "much better" than that of last year with the average PM 2.5 reading between 140-160 micrograms per cubic meter from 6 p.m. on Thursday to midnight.
Last year, Beijing recorded its highest PM 2.5 reading of over 1,000 micrograms per cubic meter after a fireworks frenzy on the eve of the Spring Festival.
On Friday, The Beijing municipal government expressed gratitude in a public letter to local citizens who answered its call of replacing fireworks with flowers and electronic substitutes for celebrations.
The letter also calls for continuing such "environment-friendly " practices in the coming days.
Chinese people traditionally light firecrackers and fireworks during the Spring Festival, which falls on Friday this year, hoping the noise will drive away evil spirits and bad luck.
However, with regular bouts of smog hitting China in recent years, fireworks' contribution to air pollution has drawn attention from the public and authorities.
Beijing has seen a slump in firecrackers and fireworks sales this year as the public show increasing concern about pollution level.
The city also cut the number of licensed firecrackers and fireworks retailers by 12 percent year on year to 1,178 stalls.
The Beijing municipal office on fireworks and firecrackers announced in December that it would issue an emergency ban on lighting fireworks if orange or red alerts for air pollution are issued during the upcoming holiday.
An orange alert means forecasted air pollution of over 300 micrograms per cubic meter for the next 24 hours, or of over 200 micrograms per cubic meter for the next 72 hours.
Residents will receive cell phone text messages notifying them of an alert, and police will be deployed to prevent the public from flouting the ban, said Yu Lianwei, an official with Beijing's public security bureau.
For the first time this year, municipal authorities have also required retailers to record the identity and phone number of buyers purchasing more than five boxes of fireworks. If the customer refuses to give the information, retailers may refuse the sale or sell a smaller amount.
Posts calling for people not to set off firecrackers are circulating on Chinese social media platforms.