Photos: The Smog that Ate Beijing

Beijing’s dismal has repeatedly made headlines, grounding flights and eventually shaming authorities into reforming rose-tinted official readings. One leading meteorologist recently warned that substantial improvement will take decades. Today, Foreign presents a gallery of photos by Sean Gallagher which captures the grim reality of the capital’s ‘crazy bad’ air.

On Jan. 23, Beijing will begin releasing hourly readings of air particulate measuring 2.5 micrometers in diameter or less, in an attempt to come clean about the level of pollution that regularly blankets the . Pollution is a sensitive subject in China, with state-run media often explaining away the smell of glue and haze so thick obscures even nearby with the term “fog,” and claiming, unbelievably, that Beijing enjoyed 274 “blue sky days” in 2011. The U.S. Embassy in Beijing has shied away from releasing its annual pollution statistics, but it runs a popular feed measuring the air on an hourly basis.

Environmental photographer Sean Gallagher took all of these photos today, a day the U.S. Embassy’s feed called “hazardous,” which means, among other things, that they recommend and older adults remain indoors. While the color blue does occasionally feature in the skies above the capital, days like this recur with depressing frequency.

See also Gallagher’s website, the US Embassy’s @BeijingAir twitter feed and Greenpeace’s list of resources for tracking air quality in cities around China and beyond.

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