BEIJING - Beijing is stepping up efforts to reduce illegal barbeques, to cut down on roadside air and noise pollution.
May is the peak time for outdoor grill cooking, which takes a heavy toll on air quality, traffic and residents, said Dang Xuefeng, spokesman for the capital's bureau of city administration and law enforcement.
"As the weather warms up, the streets gradually fill up with roadside barbecue spots, sizzling kebabs on the grill and cold beer, which also create serious air pollution and undesired noise for the neighborhoods," he said.
In addition to sanitation concerns, the smoke from outdoor barbeques is high in fine particulate matter concentration, which poses a severe threat to residents, especially those with heart and lung problems, Dang said. Downtown is the most severely afflicted area, he said, adding that most outdoor barbecues are illegal.
Pan Xiaochuan, a professor at Peking University's School of Public Health, said the smoke from barbeques is a very common source of PM2.5, or particulate matter with a diameter smaller than 2.5 micrometers, and poses a serious threat to people's respiratory systems.
He also suggested that residents are easily irritated by barbeque smoke close to their windows.
Operators of illegal barbeques face fines of up to 5,000 yuan ($656) and may have their facilities confiscated, authorities said.
The city administration office steps up inspections on illegal roadside barbecues every May, and residents can file noise and pollution complaints by dialing 96310.
The city's environmental protection bureau began regulating illegal outdoor barbeques in 2000, but controlling the problem has been difficult.
"To have some kebabs and cold beer while shooting the breeze with friends in the summer is a must for us, and nothing can replace it," said Lu Shuze, a 27-year-old primary school sports teacher in Beijing. "This has been a part of my life since college."
Lu said May is the best time for barbeques because mosquitoes aren't bad yet and the temperatures are comfortable.
The city has issued outdoor barbeque permits to several qualified night markets, which are equipped with environmentally friendly cooking equipment that gives off less pollution.
Dang did not know how many night markets have received permission to barbeque outdoors, but he said the requirements are very strict.
The government also warned of the dangers associated with barbecuing in the forest and the city's parks.
"Beijing is still in the middle of forest fire prevention season, and barbeques can easily result in a forest fire," said Yu Zhanyu, deputy director of the forest public security office of the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Landscape and Forestry.
Forest fire prevention season runs from Nov 1 to May 31, but could be extended due to dry conditions.