China Smog Continues Fifth Straight Day, Health Warnings Blanket The Region
[Watch Video: Smog in China]
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Thick smog in Beijing, China has left the city’s 20 million people with the worst air quality rating on its six-level scale. The city recommended its residents stay indoors, close windows and drink plenty of water as the air quality was reaching hazardous levels in the Chinese capital for the fifth straight day, and the nineteenth day this month. The government also advised the elderly, young and those with health problems to avoid the outdoors at all costs.
Several companies (including Apple, JP Morgan and Toyota) in the capital city handed out face masks to employees, offered health safety tips and added plants around offices as the pollution continued to put a stranglehold on the region.
The heavy blanket of smog has dominated a large swath of central and eastern China for days, bringing visibility down to less than several hundred feet and causing flight and transportation delays along parts of the affected area.
At least 42 flights have been canceled, including 11 international flights at the Beijing International Airport by Tuesday morning, and that number could climb today.
Weather forecasters with the country’s National Meteorological Center are calling for rain and snow to sweep across the region Wednesday night, which will help clear out the haze and dust in most areas.
Still, the hazy atmosphere has forced authorities to shut down 103 factories and order 30 percent of official vehicles off the road on Tuesday.
The smog has also gotten the attention of real estate tycoon and Internet blogger Pan Shiyi—who has an impressive following of 14 million on Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter. Pan, the chairman of Soho China, launched a campaign for clean air legislation and has so far garnered 43,000 votes in favor of a law to tackle smog.
Pan also spearheaded a campaign in 2011 to force Beijing to release details on levels of PM2.5 air particles in the atmosphere. The campaign was backed by another reform-minded investor, Xue Manzi, who has an equally impressive following of 10 million on Weibo.
Elevated PM2.5 levels were the blame for 8,572 premature deaths in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Xian in 2011, according to a Greenpeace and Peking University study.
As the country was gripped by smog for a 19th day since the New Year began, public and Internet outcry has spread around the region. Public anger grew as state media continued to show Beijing citizens out and about in face masks on regular TV.
“I have lived in Beijing for four years and I have not seen it this bad before,” domestic cleaner Jiang Hua, told the AFP. “It just seems so prolonged.”
“Wearing a face mask is annoying. As soon as I want to take a photo, I have to take the mask off because my glasses fog up,” said Liu Lili, a tourist from the southern province of Guangdong.
The US embassy said its air quality index reading for Beijing was “hazardous” at 301 by 5:00 p.m. Wednesday. Any reading over 150 is considered “unhealthy” and above 300 is “hazardous.”
The Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center put the figure at 286 at 4:00 p.m. These numbers are somewhat lower than Tuesday’s readings of 400 by the Monitoring Center and 517 by the US embassy, but still “hazardous.”
Companies across Beijing are seeking to protect the health of their current employees while facing the prospect of increasing difficulties in bringing in new employees as pollution levels continue to grow unchecked.
“Over the next few years the quality of life in Beijing will be something that has an impact on salaries,” Simon Lance, Shanghai-based regional director at hiring firm Hays Plc, told Bloomberg.
Apple spokeswoman Carolyn Wu confirmed to Bloomberg in an email that the iPhone maker has distributed face masks to its more than 4 dozen employees over three retail outlets.
China’s recurring problems with smog has also gained the attention of a Chinese entrepreneur who has been looking to make a profit by selling cans of fresh air to Beijing citizens, according to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald.
Chen Guangbiao, worth $740 million, is selling fresh air in soft-drink cans at .80 cents (US) per can. The air comes in several flavors such as Pristine Tibet and Post-Industrial Taiwan.
Chen said he has been selling his canned air since last September.
“If there’s a serious effort made to sell [these products], a sale of more than a hundred million in the first year should not be a problem,” he said.
He said he isn’t just looking to make a profit on the scheme, but wants to raise awareness about the region’s pollution problem.
“If we don’t start caring for the environment, then after 20 or 30 years our children and grandchildren might be wearing gas masks and carry oxygen tanks,” he told the Herald.