CHINA- With heavy smog expected in central and eastern China from Thursday to Saturday, the country's meteorological authorities are calling for a ban on fireworks, a senior official said on Wednesday.
Chinese people traditionally set off ear-splitting firecrackers during the holiday in the belief that they will ward off evil spirits and bring good luck for the year ahead. But authorities say the use of fireworks will greatly contribute to air pollution.
"Firecrackers and fireworks can release large amounts of toxic gas and particles such as sulfur dioxide, which will cause severe air pollution regionally," said Chen Zhenlin, spokesman of the China Meteorological Administration, at a news conference on Tuesday.
Chen called upon governments in central and eastern China to ban fireworks. Netizens and many city governments - including Hefei, Qingdao and Shenzhen - are suggesting that people refrain from using fireworks during Spring Festival celebrations.
Sales of fireworks in Beijing have been flat since last Saturday and the three major fireworks companies in the capital are not optimistic about this year's sales figures.
"Firecrackers seem to be gradually losing their public appeal for the holiday celebrations," said Wu Liyu, head of the Beijing Fireworks Co, a State-run company. "We have reduced the number of fireworks in the city by roughly 13 per cent this year and we are not confident all of our fireworks in stock will be sold."
According to Beijing's air quality data, the level of PM 2.5 particles has surged dramatically in recent years. On Chinese New Year Eve two years ago, there were 1,486 micrograms of PM 2.5 particles per cubic meter. The World Health Organisation considers PM 2.5 levels to be safe when they are below 25 micrograms per cubic meter.
Chen said the China Meteorological Administration will issue a four-alert fireworks index on Thursday that will be updated every day during the Chinese New Year. The index indicates the level of smog in the air, with red, the highest alert, warning residents that there will be heavy smog and advising them not to set off any fireworks.
According to the most recent weather forecast by the China Meteorological Administration, a cold snap is expected after Sunday in many parts of the country. Temperatures are expected to drop 14 degrees in some regions.
Northern areas of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region and northeastern China are bracing for heavy snow on Sunday while the central and eastern parts of the country will face massive temperature drops from Sunday to Wednesday, the administration's report said.
Snow is unlikely to fall in the capital, which usually has a dry winter with little to no snow this time of the year, said Wang Xiuwen, the China Meteorological Administration's chief forecaster.
She said because of the dry conditions in Beijing, there is a chance for fires, especially when fireworks are set off.