Beijing warns residents after off-the-charts smog

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 13, 2013 at 10:56 pm •  Published: January 13, 2013
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BEIJING (AP) — Beijing schools kept children indoors and hospitals saw a spike in respiratory cases Monday following a weekend of off-the charts pollution in China's smoggy capital, the worst since the government began being more open about air-quality data.

City authorities, who began releasing figures about some of the worst kinds of pollutants early last year, ordered many factories to scale back emissions and were spraying water at building sites to try to tamp down dust and dirt worsening the noxious haze hanging over the city.

Demand spiked for face masks and air purifiers, and hospitals saw surges of up to 30 percent in residents seeking help for breathing problems, state-run media outlets reported. Schools in several districts were ordered to cancel outdoor activities such as flag-raisings and sports classes, and in an unusual public announcement, Beijing authorities advised all residents to "take measures to protect their health."

"It's really terrible. I'm extremely upset, but there's really nothing much I can do," said a Beijing resident out for a morning stroll. Like many Chinese, the man would give only his surname, Kang.

Another man, a 60-year-old retiree surnamed Chen, said his elderly relatives had moved to stay with family members outside the city to avoid the pollution.

"I'm in pretty good shape, but the older folks have a lot of problems with their hearts, breathing, and high blood pressure," Chen said.

Levels of PM2.5 particle pollution over the weekend reached the highest levels since the Beijing government began publicly releasing figures following a public outcry. In separate monitoring by the U.S. Embassy, level were at 886 micrograms per cubic meter in a reading that was labeled "beyond index."

By Monday, levels had declined to about 350 micrograms on the Beijing government scale — down from a high above 700 but still way above the level of 25 considered safe by the World Health Organization.

PM2.5 are tiny particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in size, or about 1/30th the average width of a human hair. They can penetrate deep into the lungs, and measuring them is considered a more accurate reflection of air quality than other methods.

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