SHANGHAI - Smog blanketed Shanghai for a second week running, with hazardous particulate matter soaring to 13 times that recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) Monday, putting at risk its attractiveness as a rising global financial centre.
The city authorities warned children and the elderly to stay indoors as the reading for PM2.5 soared to 331 micrograms per cubic metre in the morning. It hit a record of 602.5 last Friday as the city's famed Oriental Pearl Tower vanished behind the smog.
This comes as a European study published in Lancet magazine Monday found that people with long-term exposure to PM2.5 - or particles measuring under 2.5 microns - have a higher risk of premature death. It is a timely reminder of the huge challenge air pollution poses to the world's No. 2 economy.
The severity of the problem in Shanghai is rare for the coastal city, which typically has only mild to moderate air pollution. But it could hurt its ambitions of being a global financial hub on a par with London, New York and Hong Kong by 2020, experts say.
Levels of PM2.5 above 300 are considered hazardous; the WHO recommends a daily level of no more than 25. These tiny particles are dangerous because they lodge deep in the lungs and can enter the bloodstream.
Experts say air quality in China typically drops in winter as heating systems in cities north of the Yangtze River depend on coal. But this time, the smog covered cities south of the Yangtze as well, including Shanghai and Nanjing. Coal burning, car exhaust, factory pollution and weather patterns left the air stagnant and dirty.
Across the mainland, 104 cities in more than 20 provinces last Friday reported PM2.5 readings of more than 300, according to the national observatory.
Air pollution is of growing concern to the government as wealthier citizens turn against a growth-at-all-costs economic model that has ravaged the environment. Recent reports of an eight-year-old girl from Jiangsu being diagnosed with lung cancer - that her doctor blamed on air pollution - have fanned outrage.
Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs professor Ma Jun said that if severe air pollution persists in Shanghai, it would affect the attractiveness of the city and its ability to attract talent.
"Cities like London and Los Angeles faced the same problem in the past but they took steps to address it and it did not affect their development," he noted. "We need to do the same."
Beijing has tackled the issue, such as by reducing coal consumption. But last month, China's top climate change negotiator Xie Zhenhua said it could take five to 10 years for the problem in China to be alleviated.
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