China warns northern provinces to prepare for more heavy smog

China warns northern provinces to prepare for more heavy smog
PHOTO: Reuters

SHANGHAI - China's environment ministry has warned northern regions to be ready to take emergency action as the country prepares for another onslaught of heavy smog.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection, in a notice published on Thursday, said heavy smog was expected in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, as well as the neighbouring provinces of Shandong and Henan.

The ministry said "unfavourable weather conditions" in the regions were expected to last until Jan. 5, and it had asked local governments to take appropriate actions to reduce emissions in a timely fashion.

It said it will dispatch 10 inspection teams to make sure emergency measures are implemented and to crack down on firms engaging in "illegal behaviour".

Smog blankets northeast China

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    More than 40 cities in China's northeast have issued pollution warnings in the past 48 hours after being blanketed by heavy smog.

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    Air quality index (AQI) readings at some monitoring stations in Tianjin, a port and industrial city southeast of Beijing, peaked above 400.

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    China's environmental watchdog issued a five-day warning on Friday about choking smog spreading across the northeast.

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    The authority also ordered factories to shut, recommended residents stay indoors and curbed traffic and construction work.

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    Pollution alerts have become increasingly common in China's northern industrial heartland, especially during winter when energy demand - much of it met by coal - skyrockets.

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    In addition, heavy winds force pollution from nearby provinces to the Beijing-Tianjin area where it remains suspended over the cities.

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    Beijing's city government ordered 1,200 factories near the Chinese capital, including a major oil refinery run by state oil giant Sinopec, to shut or cut output on Saturday.

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    On Saturday, 22 cities issued red alerts including top steelmaking city Tangshan in Hebei province around Beijing, and Jinan in coal-rich Shandong province.

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    Red alerts are issued when the AQI is forecast to exceed 200 for more than four days in succession, 300 for more than two days or 500 for at least 24 hours.

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    Tianjin was placed on orange alert - the second highest level - on Sunday.

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    In Beijing, the city's Municipal Environmental Monitoring Centre showed air quality readings of above 300 in some parts on Sunday (Dec 18) afternoon.

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    But the index was below 200 in most parts of the Chinese capital.

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    "When I went out yesterday I didn't wear a mask and my throat really hurt and I felt dizzy. It was hard to breathe through my nose," Chen Xiaochong, a hotel manager in the capital, told Reuters

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    A man swims in a lake in smog during a heavily polluted day in Beijing.

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    The forbidden city is seen in smog during a heavily polluted day.

Large parts of the country's northern regions were hit by hazardous smog in mid-December, which led authorities to order hundreds of factories to close.

Beijing's "red alert" for smog was cancelled on Dec. 22. The next day, the ministry admonished more than 20 firms for failing to comply with emergency rules aimed at cutting emissions.

Hebei, regarded as China's most polluted province, said it would learn lessons from last week's smog and draw up more"focused measures".

The province's environment bureau said on Monday it would make adjustments to its emergency system to improve its performance.

In recent smog outbreaks, individuals and firms had not been given enough time to respond to pollution alerts, and warnings would now be issued at an earlier stage, said Wang Xiaoli, director of the province's Heavy Pollution Early Warning Centre.

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