Construction workers were told to down tools, vehicles carrying waste from building sites were ordered off the roads and several heavy polluting factories were forced to reduce production yesterday as Shanghai took drastic steps to tackle its growing air pollution problem.
The Shanghai Environmental Protection Bureau initiated the emergency measures at 7am after the Air Quality Index rose to 206, or heavily polluted, an hour earlier, before reaching a peak of 230 about noon.
Tiny PM2.5 particles were the major pollutant, the density of which hit 200 micrograms per cubic meter — eight times the World Health Organization's recommended safe level — in Putuo, Qingpu and Jing'an districts.
The Shanghai Environmental Monitoring Center said much of the pollution had been carried into the city from central and northern regions, while a lack of wind and high humidity levels had exacerbated the situation.
The fact that the choking pollution was forecast to last into today was enough to initiate the emergency measures.
Air quality should improve today, however, with the AQI expected to steadily fall from about 105, or slightly polluted, in the morning, to under 90, or good, after lunch.
The respite will be short-lived, however, as a new round of pollution is expected to hit the city late Thursday night or early Friday morning.
Yesterday was the fifth time in just a month that the city government has applied the emergency measures.
Despite the recent pollution problems, the Shanghai Environmental Monitoring Center said that over the course of this year, the average air quality has been much the same as in 2014.
Still, more work is needed next year if authorities are to achieve their goal of cutting the mean PM2.5 density by 20 percent in three years, it said.
The average PM2.5 density was 55 micrograms per cubic meter in 2014, 16 percent lower than in 2013, but far above the target of 35 micrograms, and greater than five times the WHO's standard of 10 micrograms per cubic meter as measured over a 12-month period.
Fu Qingyan, a senior engineer at the monitoring center, said this year's average should be within 1 or 2 percent of the 2014 figure.
"We did very well (in decreasing the PM2.5 density) last year. While no apparent improvement has been made this year, the general situation over the past two years is satisfactory," he told Shanghai Daily.
"The city has set a target of cutting the PM2.5 density by 20 percent in three years' time, which means we need to set a higher goal for next year," he said.
As part of those efforts, the government has this year continued to close down heavy polluting companies, and in October introduced a penalty system for firms that discharge volatile organic compounds, akin to PM2.5 particles.
"In recent years, Shanghai has introduced much stricter regulations to combat air pollution than many other cities," Fu said. "What we must do next is ensure the regulations are properly implemented and adhered to so that the environment can benefit."