Beijing blanketed by hazardous smog despite red alert

The Chinese capital continued to be blanketed by hazardous smog for the second day today despite the first-ever red alert which halved the number of cars on the roads and shut factories and construction sites in the city of over 22 million people.

PTI| Last Updated: Dec 09, 2015, 22:18 PM IST
Beijing blanketed by hazardous smog despite red alert

Beijing: The Chinese capital continued to be blanketed by hazardous smog for the second day today despite the first-ever red alert which halved the number of cars on the roads and shut factories and construction sites in the city of over 22 million people.

While heavy air pollution remained around 360 in PM2.5 particles in the US Embassy Air Quality Monitor in Beijing, meteorologists have issued warnings for the next bout of smog expected to cover the city from Saturday. The red alert is due to end tomorrow.

The levels of air pollution have not come down much despite allowing odd- and even-numbered cars on specific days which has eased pressure on roads.

There were far fewer pedestrians, and most donned white masks to filter the air.

The ministry of environmental protection claimed that emergency measures cut pollutant emissions in Beijing by 30 per cent between the start and late afternoon yesterday - day one of the city's first red alert for smog.

Without the measures, the density of PM2.5, tiny and particularly hazardous airborne particles, would have risen by 10 per cent in that period, environmentalists with Beijing University of Technology said.

The density of PM2.5 sulfates, commonly caused by coal-burning, was much higher yesterday than on Monday, while the air held far less PM2.5 nitrates, mostly emitted by vehicles, state-run Xinhua news agency quoted Chai Fahe, deputy head of the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences as saying.

That indicated that the traffic restrictions were effective but more work needs to be done to reduce emissions from coal burning, Chai said.

Coal-powered winter heating systems are a big cause of the smog that blights north China at this time of year.

Market reports said there is a big rush for air purifiers whose prices have sky rocketed due to heavy demand. Several shops said they completely sold out the air purifiers.

Though reeling under the first ever red alert for rising levels of pollution, Beijing also registered a boom in online orders among others for condoms and sportswear.

While it is easy to imagine a sharp rise in online orders for anti-pollution products such as masks and air purifiers on smoggy days, a boom in the sales of condoms and sportswear might be a little unexpected, official media reported.

According to search ratings for last week provided by Taobao.Com, China's largest online shopping platform, searches for condoms were clearly correlated with those Chinese cities that experienced heavy smog.

In Beijing and some northern cities that were severely hit by smog, the rise in orders of condoms went beyond the sales in cities with cleaner air, as people have greater concerns of good childbearing and try to prevent getting pregnant on smoggy days, state-run China Daily reported.

Interest in sportswear also increased during the heavy smog. Those cities with serious haze recorded more frequent searches for sportswear as residents have a stronger willingness to exercise outside once the air gets cleaner.

Sportswear has become more popular than women's apparel and cosmetics on smoggy days, according to Taobao, the online retail search engine of Alibaba.

While Beijing issued red alert for smog, 27 other cities in the country issued orange alerts which meant "very unhealthy" air.

The rising levels of pollution have sparked off debate among experts about the reasons for the deteriorating air.

Beijing has taken a series of emergency pollution control restrictions, ranging from closing industrial operations to reducing road traffic by half.

Beijing's vehicle restrictions? of odd and even number plates will last until noon tomorrow.

Many parents complained that the sudden closure of schools for three days which has made them stay home to take care of children and many felt schools are better equipped to deal with pollution than homes.

"Children often become sloppy and lose discipline at home, My son doesn't study at all," Wang Heifeng, a Beijing resident said.

She said an air purifier has been installed in the school with funds raised from parents.

"We don't have air filters at home. In all aspects, learning at school on smoggy days is better than doing it at home," she said.

Although coal-burning is strictly banned in downtown Beijing and some of its suburban areas, coal is still being used for home heating in all rural areas of the smog-affected northern provinces.

Experts and the national environmental watchdog said the soaring use of coal and industrial pollution are the main reasons behind the severe smog affecting northern areas.