Early Monday, Beijing issued its first-ever pollution “red alert” for smog. While smog has become a common feature of day-to-day life in and around Beijing, it is expected to be particularly thick over the next few days.
Authorities were criticized for not issuing an alert last week when, as NPR’s Anthony Kuhn reported, air particulates in Beijing “hit levels about 20 times higher than what the World Health Organization says are safe.”
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This week, pollutants in some areas could reach levels more than 40 times what is deemed safe. China’s state news agency Xinhua blamed the pollution on coal-fired power plants.
Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs in Beijing, said it was a “very tough decision” for China’s leaders to declare the red alert in a city of about 23 million inhabitants.
“It is history – this is a precedent set,” Ma said. “This is extremely important to stop children from being exposed to such a high level of pollution.”
In a special meeting Monday, environment minister Chen Jining urged vigilance against pollution in Beijing and nearby cities. Jining also increased the number of environment inspection teams to 12, according to state-backed news website thepaper.cn.
According to the city’s emergency management, “kindergartens, primary and high schools are advised to suspend classes, outdoor operations of construction sites are banned and some industrial plants are required to limit or stop production,” Xinhua reported. A separate order issued by the Beijing education commissioned closed all schools until Thursday.
Car use, including 30 percent of government cars, will be limited to alternating days based on the odd or even numbers on their license plates, Xinhua said.
Despite this, Chinese state radio has reported that some motorists have ignored this order.
The alert will be in effect from 7 a.m. Tuesday through noon on Thursday.