Written By: Emma Websdale
Smog has choked China’s northern city of Harbin, forcing closures of schools, airports and highways as the region’s air pollution reaches dangerous levels.
China is experiencing its first pollution crisis of the winter, as today, the PM2.5 reading (levels used to measure the amount of particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers in the air) reached 1,000 in some parts of Harbin, the capital of northeastern Heilongjiang province -meaning that currently up to 11 million people are exposed to hazardous air pollution levels.
According to the World Health Organization guidelines, daily concentrations of PM2.5 should remain below 25 micrograms per cubic meter. However, this morning areas of Harbin had above 500 micrograms per cubic meter, with Reuters putting the figure at 1000, or 40 times the hazardous level.
Reducing visibility below 50 meters (approximately 55 yards) in parts of the city, the smog has forced primary and middle schools to suspend classes, while airports and public bus routes have failed to operate this morning. The smog is expected to continue for the next 24 hours.
According to official Xinhua news agency, the pollution crisis has been brought on by the first day of the public heating system being turned on in the city for winter –a heating system that operates by circulating hot air generated at heating stations predominantly fueled by burning coal.
“The building 50 meters away cannot be seen clearly. I smelt irrigative coal smoke when I opened the window of my house”, said Sun Qi, a resident in Changchun, provincial capital of Jilin.
Furthermore, China’s northeast is plagued yearly by air pollution as a result of factory emissions and massive growth in the number of vehicles on the road.
China’s smog plague follows the release of two studies this month, the first linking air pollutants to lung and bladder cancer, and the second warning that pregnant women living in areas with polluted air and dense traffic are likely to give birth to underweight babies, as pollutants have been found to restrict fetal growth.