Smog-hit China province surrounding Beijing says has learnt its lesson

Smog-hit China province surrounding Beijing says has learnt its lesson
PHOTO: AFP

HEBEI - The heavily polluted northern Chinese province of Hebei, which surrounds the capital Beijing, said it will learn lessons from the smog that engulfed the region last week and step up efforts to clean the air.

Hebei, home of seven of China's 10 smoggiest cities last year, has declared 2017 to be the "year of transformation and upgrading", the province said on its official website on Saturday (http://www.hebei.gov.cn).

China has repeatedly vowed to curb pollution of its air, soil and water caused by more than three decades of economic growth. Beijing frequently features near the top of the list of China's most polluted cities.

In the Hebei capital of Shijiazhuang, average concentrations of small breathable particles known as PM2.5 were higher than 500 micrograms per cubic metre for three consecutive days last week - 50 times higher than World Health Organization recommendations.

In the province's first official response to last week's smog outbreak, governor Zhang Qingwei said Hebei would work to improve "levels of scientific precision" when it came to controlling pollution.

Hebei has been on the front line of China's nearly three-year "war on pollution", but experts say enforcement has remained lax amid lingering concerns about the impact that smog controls have on economic growth and jobs.

Eight cities in Hebei launched "red alerts" last week in response to the smog, which reached record levels at some monitoring stations in the province, but it quickly came under fire from the Ministry of Environmental Protection, with a number of its steel firms singled out for failing to suspend operations.

Zhang, in comments published on Monday, said better"top-level planning" was required as Hebei sought to adjust its industrial and energy structures.

Hebei would also draw up more detailed plans to deal with issues like the direct combustion of coal, a major source of smog, the provincial government said on its official website (http://www.hebei.gov.cn).

The province aimed to cut PM2.5 concentrations to an average of around 67 micrograms per cubic meter this year, down from 77 micrograms in 2015, but officials have warned that the latest outbreak could make China's pollution targets difficult to reach.

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.

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