A man takes a photo from a pagoda on top of Jingshan Park looking over the smog-shrouded north gate of the Forbidden City. Photo: Li Hao/GT
Residents have been urged to stay inside and leave their cars at home after the third day of "beyond index" pollution has enveloped the capital.
Beijing government has for the first time instituted a series of measures designed to mitigate the serious pollution that enveloped the capital at weekend. Data from Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center showed that at some monitoring stations Saturday, PM2.5 particles were over 700 micrograms per cubic meter, far beyond the normal index, which stops at 500.
The center advised people to stay inside. The World Health Organization says that levels of PM2.5 over 25 micrograms can be dangerous.
The smoggy conditions are expected to continue until Wednesday, said Sun Jisong, chief meteorologist at Beijing meteorological bureau.
Beijing is ringed by mountains, which can prevent pollutants from dissipating. Sources of pollution include vehicles, factories and coal emissions from heating.
"Although pollutants won't form smog, fog could stop the pollutants from spreading and suspend them in the air," said Sun.
As a response to the pollution, provisions from the air pollution emergency plan, which came into force on January 1, 2013, kicked in, said Zhang Lun from the Beijing Municipal Bureau of City Administration and Law Enforcement.
Measures include increasing street cleaning, ensuring building sites cover up sand piles, and reducing traffic.
"We'll survey these sites at least once a day and put more effort into checking the illegal dumping of sand as well as unlicensed trucks from sites," said Zhang.
Pang Xinhuo, deputy director of Beijing Center for Disease Control and Prevention warned that those who have respiratory disease should be particularly cautious.
"The recent rise of (A)H1N1 has caused an increase in the number of patients, but days with high pollution could have a long-term effect on health," said Pang.
Doctor Yu Ying, from Peking Union Medical College Hospital, also agreed this pollution could have long-term health consequences.
"PM2.5 is smaller and lighter than PM10. It can enter the lungs and affect people's health," she said, adding that there had been a rise in admissions of people with respiratory diseases, but they cannot tell if this is pollution-related, or normal winter seasonal diseases.
Nearly 150 patients were transported to hospital with respiratory-related conditions by Beijing 999 Red Cross Emergency Medical Center, on Saturday and Sunday, the Legal Mirror reported.
Beijing education commission said via its microblog it had advised schools in the worst-hit districts like Tongzhou, Daxing, and Fangshan where pollution reached extreme levels to keep students inside in the next three days. The commission will keep a close eye on the levels in all districts and advise accordingly, it said.
Ma Jun, director with the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, doubts the new emergency measures will be effective, and criticized the late reaction of the education commission.
"Instead of issuing the order to cancel outdoor activities at schools on Friday when the pollution was already quite heavy, the education commission issued it on Saturday when schools were closed," he said.
"Government should not just take emergency measures on high pollution days with the hope of reducing the pollution, since we need to make long-term progress," he said.
Many Beijing residents have posted online of staying indoors, turning up their air filters and wearing masks when going outside.
Nasiar Abdinasir, a football referee from Somalia, said this could be the worst pollution he has experienced in his 17 years in Beijing.
"The best way to protect myself is to stay at home," he said, noting he stayed at home all day Sunday and only went out for dinner when he had to.
Wang Lei, who works at a foreign trade company, said he is coughing more than ever these days, but still has to work.
"I think our company should pay some compensation if the staff get sick because of the frequent exposure to pollution on the way to work," he said.
"I bought some masks. It may or may not help, but it's better than wearing nothing," he said.