Jan 13, 2018 06:03 PM

Heavy Smog Hits North China, Triggering Alerts in Over 30 Cities

Choking smog rolled into North China on Saturday, as authorities issued alerts for more than 30 cities in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region and neighboring provinces through next week.

Within the affected area, 30 cities issued orange alerts for severe air pollution, the second-worst level under China’s four-tiered air quality rating system. Those included Beijing and neighboring Tianjin, as well as cities in nearby Shanxi, Shandong and Henan provinces.

An orange alert means heavy pollution with a daily average air quality index (AQI) of over 200 for three consecutive days, including one day exceeding 300. Anything over 100 is considered unhealthy.

The alert is forecast to last into next week, and air should return to good levels by Thursday with the arrival of a cold front, according to the environmental ministry. The alert is Beijing’s first orange one this year. Beijing issued four air pollution alerts in the last three months of 2017, including an orange one in early November.

Under the orange alert, the elderly and students in schools and kindergartens are advised to stay indoors. High-emission gasoline-powered vehicles are banned from roads, and certain outdoor construction activities, such as whitewashing and demolishing, are prohibited.

China’s rapid industrialization has led to frequently polluted air throughout the country, prompting many to wear surgical masks and use air purifiers to protect themselves. The problem is particularly acute in the winter months due to the burning of heavily-polluting coal to heat many homes.

To tackle the problem, the government has rolled out a series of policies including suspension of factory operations and a radical nationwide campaign switching from coal-fired energy to natural gas.

The latter campaign has been effective in the current winter. The density of PM 2.5, very small particles that are considered some of the most hazardous, dropped by 53.8% in Beijing in the fourth quarter of 2017, while December levels were down nearly 70%, according to the environmental ministry's website. But the campaign has also come under criticism in some areas where it has left numerous households without heat during the harsh winter months due to incomplete installation of natural gas-powered systems.

The smog-reduction campaign is part of a broader move by China’s top decision-makers to focus less on rapid economic growth at any cost in favor of high quality growth.

Contact reporter Lin Jinbing (

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