Pollution may make economy splutter
Updated: 2013-01-15 07:51
By Zheng Xin (China Daily)
Construction, tourism 'will be hit by haze and measures to tackle it'
As a number of cities try to clear the air, specialists in Beijing warn that the pollution and emergency responses to reduce it could damage the economy and tourism.
Authorities in the capital said on Monday they had ordered 58 factories with high emissions to suspend operations. Work at construction sites that could cause dust, such as leveling land, were also halted.
The move followed similar action in Shijiazhuang, in neighboring Hebei province, where authorities stopped work at more than 700 construction sites.
Both cities have advised young children and the elderly to stay indoors.
The capital has ordered kindergartens, primary and middle schools to scrap physical education classes until air quality improves.
"Pollution from the 58 factories has been cut, and we believe we can reduce their emissions by 30 percent," Li Hong, deputy director of Beijing's Economy and Information Technology Commission, said at a news conference held jointly by several departments on Monday.
The factories ordered to halt operations include two cement plants, and others involved in chemicals, metallurgy and building materials, he said.
Up to 30 percent of government vehicles have also been banned from the capital's roads on heavily polluted days, according to a spokesman for the Beijing Traffic Management Bureau.
Drivers found guilty of breaking the rules face penalties, but the spokesman did not elaborate.
Air quality dropped dramatically on Thursday and steadily worsened over the weekend, said Zhang Dawei, who heads the city's environmental protection monitoring center.
By Saturday, official data showed the density of PM2.5 - particles of 2.5 microns or smaller that can damage the lungs - had reached 900 micrograms per cubic meter in several Beijing districts.
It was the highest level recorded since authorities began releasing the data to the public in early 2012.
The safe daily level is 25 micrograms per cubic meter, according to the World Health Organization.
Coal emissions and vehicle exhaust fumes played a major role in the pollution and a low-pressure weather front trapped the polluted air.
"Beijing is a huge city with a lot of heavy industry," Zhang said. "Under certain atmospheric conditions, the pollution is trapped."
The China Climate Bulletin, released by the China Meteorological Administration on Monday, said hazy conditions primarily occurred in two periods; between January and March and October and December.
More coal was burnt this winter as weather conditions were more severe than usual.
In addition, Zhang said, neighboring cities have also contributed to the capital's pollution.
Shijiazhuang topped the list of cities for the worst air pollution on Saturday.
A cold front is forecast for the capital on Tuesday and this will result in cleaner air from Wednesday.
Experts say the pollution and measures to reduce it have already hit the economy.
Officials at Monday's news conference declined to speculate on the financial repercussions of the smog.
However, Feng Yongfeng, founder of Green Beagle, an environmental protection NGO in the capital, said the emergency measures "will definitely set back construction on many projects". Although, he added, "it might be time for the city to slow down".
Zhang Hui, a professor of tourism from Beijing Jiaotong University, said the city's tourism will also be affected, as conditions put off visitors and residents from seeing the sights. "People will not venture out if it is unhealthy. This applies to city residents and to potential visitors."
The Ministry of Environmental Protection called on Monday on regional environmental departments to improve monitoring of air quality and warn the public of haze hazards by analyzing weather patterns and issuing forecasts.
Wu Wencong contributed to this story.
(China Daily 01/15/2013 page1)