Beijing air pollution at dangerously high levels

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 16, 2014 at 1:53 am •  Published: January 16, 2014
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BEIJING (AP) — Beijing's skyscrapers receded into a dense gray smog Thursday as the capital saw the season's first wave of extremely dangerous pollution, with the concentration of toxic small particles registering more than two dozen times the level considered safe.

The air took on an acrid odor, and many of the city's commuters wore industrial strength face masks as they hurried to work.

"I couldn't see the tall buildings across the street this morning," said a traffic coordinator at a busy Beijing intersection who gave only his surname, Zhang. "The smog has gotten worse in the last two to three years. I often cough, and my nose is always irritated. But what can you do? I drink more water to help my body discharge the toxins."

The city's air quality is often poor, especially in winter when stagnant weather patterns combine with an increase in coal-burning to exacerbate other forms of pollution and create periods of heavy smog for days at a time. But the readings early Thursday for particles of PM2.5 pollution marked the first ones of the season above 500 micrograms per cubic meter.

The density of PM2.5 was about 350 to 500 micrograms Thursday midmorning, though the air started to clear in the afternoon. It had reached as high as 671 at 4 a.m. at a monitoring post at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. That is about 26 times as high as the 25 micrograms considered safe by the World Health Organization, and was the highest reading since January 2013.

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