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As air pollution surges, citizens call for action

2013-01-22 13:58     Web Editor: Wang Fan comment

( -- With more city dwellers becoming aware of the harm caused by air pollution, many are calling for concrete action from the government to keep skies blue, reports China Newsweek magazine.

The dense smog that recently lingered over much of China not only blocked out the sun, it also overwhelmed air quality indexes and filled hospital wards, making the problem impossible to ignore.

Levels of PM2.5 (airborne particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter) were well above 700 micrograms per cubic meter in several places on January 12, and may have even hit 900, according to an official monitoring center in Beijing.

In Shanghai, the air also saw similar spikes in hourly density of PM2.5 particles, which set a record high since the index was introduced there on November 16.

In central China's Wuhan, a city that is often shrouded by mist, PM2.5 index readings rose to hazardous levels, a grim situation that lasted for over ten days.

Even in south China's Pearl River Delta region, air quality ranked as "moderately polluted" with PM2.5 the major cause, according to the Guangdong Environmental Information Issuing Platform.

The widespread pollution created a surge in demand for masks and air purifiers, with many shops running out of stock.

More seriously, hospitals have seen growing numbers of patients with respiratory diseases. Beijing Children's Hospital treated more than 800 kids with respiratory problems on January 14 alone, says China Newsweek.

Urban residents have expressed their concern about the air quality, with many disappointed in the government's anti-pollution efforts over the last year.

"There were many foggy days in 2012, but the week-long smog seemed much denser this time. Visibility plummeted to the worst I've ever seen," said a taxi driver in Beijing.

Ms. Zhang, who lives in Wuhan, expressed worry about people who do their morning exercises outdoors. "I thought it was the same as the regular fog I've seen from time to time, but it turned out to be pollution that can harm people."

"Smog forms gradually, which is a long process, so the higher frequency of hazy weather caused by PM2.5 implies that pollution conditions might be more serious than before," said an environmental science major at Wuhan University.

For metropolises like Beijing and Shanghai, the haze also caused economic damages from highway closures, flight delays, traffic jams and other unexpected situations.

According to research by Tsinghua University, air pollution last year cost China at least 560 billion yuan (US$89.9 billion), or 1.2 percent of the country's GDP.

In response, Beijing has drafted an air pollution regulation that would cut the number of vehicles on roads during heavily polluted days. It also targets factories and outdoor barbecues, threatening large fines for those who break the rules.

Since early last year, many Chinese cities have started monitoring PM2.5, but the measures Beijing is planning, with their emphasis on harsher punishments for violators, are the first of their kind here.

Some citizens say the regulations are a good start, but worry that the rules won't be properly enforced.

In recent years, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide from power plants, auto exhaust and other industries have been creating more harmful kinds of pollution, which makes the work of air quality protection even more difficult.

Residents in other provinces have also called for concrete action from their local governments, saying that monitoring alone is not enough to combat pollution.

There is no doubt that anti-pollution efforts should be backed by law, but the public should also cooperate, because the environment must be protected by all of society, said Zeng Xiangbin, who works at Beijing's Yingke Law Firm.


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