Nov 07, 2016 07:35 PM

Crop Waste, Coal Burning Blamed for Off-the-Scale Smog Levels

(Beijing) — Coal that's burned to power winter heating systems plus local governments' failure to curb illicit incineration of crop waste in northeastern regions are largely to blame for the latest bout of smog, the Ministry of Environmental Protection said.

PM2.5 particulates — airborne pollutants 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter — registered as a main pollutant in the latest bout of foul air, which affected 10 provinces and municipalities in northern and eastern China from Nov. 3 to 6, according to Gong Zhengyu, head of the China National Environmental Monitoring Center.

PM2.5 particulates can cause lung cancer as well as strokes. The World Health Organization says that air is unhealthy when PM2.5 levels exceed a daily average of 25 milligrams per cubic meter.

The air quality index (AQI), a gauge of air pollution, specifically the concentration of PM2.5 in Harbin, Suihua and Daqing, three cities in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang, soared above 500, a level off the scale of most of air-quality measuring devices, Gong told a news conference on Sunday.

The concentration of PM2.5 particles in Harbin, the provincial capital of Heilongjiang, shot to 1,281 milligrams per cubic meter of air at one point on Friday, according to the ministry.


Pollutants from the northeast started to travel along a 1,600-km-long north-south corridor across parts of northern and eastern China on Saturday, affecting more than 1 million square kilometers, or about 10% of the country, the ministry said.

Vehicle emissions pushed air pollution in northern China, including Beijing and the eastern provinces of Jiangsu and Anhui, to dangerous levels for much of Friday and Saturday.

This latest bout of smog has come as many coal-fired heating systems in the northeast of China started up.

But the ministry said in a statement on Saturday that some local authorities are also to blame as they have failed or been slow to take required measures to tackle pollution.

Air in Daqing was heavily polluted for 37 hours from Thursday into Friday, meriting a "red" smog alert, the nation's highest on a four-tier color-coded alert system, but local regulators activated only an "orange" smog warning, the second-highest warning, the ministry said.

When a red smog alert is issued, some manufacturers on the government pollution watch list are required to cut production, and work on all construction sites must be suspended.

The ministry also censured some local authorities for failing to clamp down on farmers who illicitly burned crop waste in the open air and manufacturers who were found to be emitting excessive levels of toxic pollutants into the air.

Satellite images revealed 415 locations in Heilongjiang where local farmers had burned crop waste, which accounted for 83% of locations uncovered nationally, the ministry said.

At least 39 manufacturers in the northeastern regions were found to have emitted excessive amounts of pollutants over the past few days. However, the ministry did not say if it will take action.

Contact reporter Li Rongde (; editor Kerry Nelson (

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