Air pollution is a major problem in China due to the country’s rapid pace of industrialization, reliance on coal power, explosive growth in vehicle ownership and disregard for environmental laws, with development often taking priority over health. The pollution typically gets worse in the winter because of an increase in coal burning.
“The pollution has affected large areas, lasted for a long time and is of great density. This is rare for Beijing in recent years,” Zhang Dawei, director of Beijing’s environment monitoring center, told a news conference.
According to the government monitoring, levels of PM2.5 particles were above 700 micrograms per cubic meter on Saturday, and declined to levels around 350 micrograms – but still way above the World Health Organization’s safety levels of 25.
In separate monitoring by the U.S. Embassy, levels peaked Saturday at 886 micrograms – and the air quality was labeled as “beyond index.”
City authorities ordered many factories to scale back emissions and were spraying water at building sites to try to tamp down dust and dirt that worsen the noxious haze.
Schools in several districts were ordered to cancel outdoor flag-raisings and sports classes, and in an unusual public announcement, Beijing authorities advised all residents to “take measures to protect their health.”
The Beijing Shijitan Hospital received 20 percent more patients than usual at its respiratory health department, most of them coughing and seeking treatment for bronchitis, asthma and other respiratory ailments, Dr. Huang Aiben said.
PM2.5 are tiny particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in size, or about 1/30th the average width of a human hair. They can penetrate deep into the lungs, and measuring them is considered a more accurate reflection of air quality than other methods.
“Because these dust particles are relatively fine, they can be directly absorbed by the lung’s tiny air sacs,” Huang said. “The airway’s ability to block the fine dust is relatively weak, and so bacteria and viruses carried by the dust can directly enter the airway.”
Prolonged exposure could result in tumors, he added.
Demand spiked for face masks, with a half dozen drugstores in Beijing reached by phone reporting they had sold out. A woman surnamed Pang working at a Golden Elephant pharmacy said buyers were mainly the elderly and students, and that the store had sold 60 masks daily over the past few days.<< previous 1 2 3 next >>
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