While transparency regarding air quality data may still be relatively new to China, Sunday marked the third day of record-breaking, and remarkably dangerous smog in Beijing. Residents of the notoriously polluted Chinese capital were advised to stay inside as hospital admissions for respiratory illness reportedly jumped by 30%, and sales of gas masks and respirators spiked. The US Embassy—supporting the data from the Beijing Environmental Monitoring Center—described “beyond index” levels of PM2.5, an airborne particulate that is small enough to deeply penetrate the lungs.
As of Sunday evening, a reading of 993 micrograms per cubic meter of PM 2.5 pushed the dense haze to over 30 times the World Health Organization’s recommended maximum level of 25 micrograms/m3. CBS additionally reports that “The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s air quality index goes up to only 500, and the agency advises that anything greater than 300 would trigger a health warning of “emergency conditions,” with the entire population likely affected.”
As outdoor school activities are cancelled, municipal authorities have ordered factories to scale back their emissions in the hope of preventing further worsening of air quality conditions. The high levels of PM 2.5 are expected to remain until mid-week, when an area of low pressure—which has contributed to the hazardous pollution levels—moves on.
China’s rapid industrialization, high rates of car ownership, dependence on coal power and flouting of environmental regulations has made Beijing one of the world’s most notoriously polluted cities. Last year the Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Centre began publishing hourly updates of the levels of PM2.5 over 70 cities after public pressure forced greater transparency regarding pollution in the nation.