On Monday, at least 23 cities in northern China went on high alert for extreme air pollution levels. The thick smog was deemed so dangerous that several highways were shut down and air traffic was grounded or delayed. On top of the health hazards, Beijing officials are coming under scrutiny for labeling smog as a “meteorological disaster,” instead of a manmade – and preventable – problem.

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The dense haze has caused a swell in respiratory symptoms in cities up to 100 miles away from Beijing, forcing hospitals to initiate emergency procedures. Because so much of China’s electricity is powered by burning coal, the increase in demand during the winter months often results in hazardous pollution levels. The city of Beijing has shut down 700 industry plants and asked another 500 to cut back on their production, according to USA Today.

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The city also came under fire in recent weeks, following a draft of the Beijing Meteorological Disasters Prevention and Control Regulations, which labeled smog as a disaster caused by unfavorable meteorological conditions. “’Meteorological disasters’ are caused by natural conditions and cannot be controlled by human activity,” said Zhang Zitai, a professor at Fudan University. “Smog, on the other hand, is mainly caused by human activity. Thus the plan to list it as a meteorological disaster not only goes against science, it will also create an excuse for polluters to escape their culpability.”

Residents should see the haze, which rolled in on Friday, dissipate by the end of the day on Tuesday, but this is not the first time China has had to answer for its smog problem, nor will it be the last – despite the country’s uptake in renewable energy projects.

Via USA Today

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