A red alert has been issued for several cities in northern China including Changchun and Harbin. A red alert is the highest level on the four-tiered alert system and is defined as serious air pollution for three consecutive days. According to Xinhuanet News, “the density of PM 2.5 — airborne particles measuring less than 2.5 microns in diameter, exceeded 500 micrograms per cubic meter on Monday morning.” Visibility is presently less than 50 meters in the downtown capital city of Harbin of Heilongjiang Province.
Local authorities have warned citizens to remain home and avoid unnecessary outdoor activity. Unfortunately one key factor in creating the smoggy conditions is related to emissions produced by heating systems operated with coal. With temperatures dropping, heating season just began.
The Yu Hua Thermal Power plant in Shijiazhuang is currently installing new equipment to increase efficiency of its equipment and reduce oxynitride by eight thousand tons. Over 600 coal-fired boilers have already been dismantled. Environmental officials recognize the need to reduce their reliance on coal but do not want to rely on foreign imports. As hazards continue the Chinese government is likely to be left with little choice.
In response to the critical conditions, the Beijing Municipal Government will likely soon issue a new directive requiring alternate driving days for cars based upon even/odd numbered license plates and continued school shutdowns until the smog levels abate. Other restrictive regulations have been directed at restaurants for poor kitchen exhaust systems particularly in urban areas, which are thought to contribute between 15 and 20 percent to the readings in Beijing. Hefty fines are being issued to those in violation of the new regulations. Other strategies for curbing fuel consumption include hikes in vehicle fuel prices to drive down demand. The National Development and Reform Commission has increased fuel for vehicles today.
Hazardous smog has affected 17 provinces and municipalities with a population of 600 million forcing China to set in place a nation-wide monitoring effort aimed at reducing toxic levels. China has dedicated 1.75 trillion-yuan ($284.2 billion U.S.) to address the worsening crisis over the next five years.
Article by Robin Blackstone, appearing courtesy Environmental News Network.