Shanghai’s concentration of toxic particulate matter (PM) reached 602.5 micrograms per cubic meter on Friday afternoon – the highest level since records began last December, and more than 24 times higher than the World Health Organization’s guideline of 25 micrograms. The situation was so bad that Shanghai authorities ordered schoolchildren indoors and halted all construction after the financial district was engulfed by a sickening yellow haze.
There were noticeably fewer people on the city’s streets as many fled indoors to escape the debilitating smog. Vehicle traffic was also thin on the ground after authorities pulled 30 percent of government vehicles off the road, along with a ban on fireworks and public sporting events. “I feel like I’m living in clouds of smog,” said Zheng Qiaoyun, a local resident who kept her 6-month-old son at home. “I have a headache, I’m coughing, and it’s hard to breathe on my way to my office.”
As a coastal city, Shanghai usually has mild to modest air pollution, but environmental group Greenpeace attributed the recent spike in pollution to slow-moving and low-hanging air masses which carried factory emissions from Jiangsu, Anhui and Shandong provinces to Shanghai. China’s social media sites are rife with jokes that the city is finally catching up to Beijing in terms of pollution levels.
While humor is one way that many people forced to live with the pollution deal with daily life, it doesn’t change the fact that many sources of smog in the country are still going strong. Coal burning, car exhaust, factory pollution and weather patterns remain a serious challenge and a very real threat to the nation as a whole. Things can always get worse, as proven by the far northeastern city of Harbin, which reported PM 2.5 rates up to 1,000 micrograms per cubic meter in October when winter heating was switched on across the city.