Men dressed as astronauts in Taiyuan, Shanxi Province hand out masks to passersby as the city continues to be blighted by severe air pollution. Photo: CFP
One of China's oil giants denied that its chairman said oil refinery plants are one of the major culprits behind the heavy haze which has shrouded 15 percent of the mainland for the past five days.
Lü Dapeng, spokesperson for the China Petrochemical Corporation (Sinopec Group), denied Fu Chengyu, chairman of the company, ever made remarks to this effect.
Fu was reportedly quoted as saying by Xinhua that only Beijing has implemented the ultra-low sulfur standard equivalent to the Euro V standard of 10 parts per million (ppm), while all other mainland cities adopted the 150 ppm standard equivalent to Euro III.
The air pollution index in Shanghai and Jiangxi Province was rated as severely polluted, while the toxic haze that has choked Beijing for the last five days weakened slightly on Thursday due to light rainfall and will be further dissipated by a cold front on Friday.
Vehicle exhaust is a major contributor to air pollution, especially to the PM 2.5 index. Besides Beijing, Jiangsu Province also raised its gasoline and diesel requirement to the standard equivalent to Euro IV in several cities since April last year, according to Gao Chengsha, an analyst with the energy and chemical industry consultancy website chem365.net.
Given the circumstances and the demands of different interest groups, there is still a long way to go to promote the low-sulfur standard nationwide, Gao said.
"Raising the national standards will cost the refinery plants a fortune and harm the revenues and profits of State-owned enterprises. The low-sulfur gasoline will also be more expensive, so customers and markets also need time to adjust," she told the Global Times on Thursday.
The Beijing municipal government decided Tuesday to suspend the use of 30 percent of the municipal government's vehicles and halt production at 103 factories.
On Wednesday, traffic police in Jinan, Shandong Province, began wearing masks on duty.
The National Meteorological Center rescinded its yellow smog alert early Thursday. Smog in central and east China will be dispersed by a cold front due to arrive on Friday, it said.
According to the National Climate Center, the first month of 2013 saw the most frequent heavy fog and haze weather since 1961. Ma Xuekuan, the chief weather forecaster with National Meteorological Center, told the Beijing News that smog and haze weather is frequent during winters in China but they normally won't last long thanks to cold fronts. But since January 10, the cold front has been weak, making the pollutant difficult to diffuse.