Smog Grounds More Planes in Beijing

A thick wall of “off the scale” smog forced the delay or cancellation of more than 150 flights to and from Beijing on Tuesday, according to AFP: The national meteorological centre said the Chinese capital had been hit by thick fog that reduced visibility to as little as 200 metres (650 feet) in some parts of the city, while official data judged air quality to be “good”. But the US embassy, which has its own pollution measuring system, said on its Twitter feed that the concentration of the smallest, most dangerous particles in the air was “beyond index” for most of the morning. The US system measures particles in the air of 2.5 micrometers or less, known as PM2.5, considered the most dangerous for people’s health. Tuesday’s reading on its air quality index, which rates anything over 150 as unhealthy, over 200 as very unhealthy and over 300 as hazardous, breached the upper limit of 500, at which it stops giving figures. Tensions over Beijing’s air quality rose in December following a string of similarly hazardous days, with residents demonstrating a heightened level of impatience over the government’s official explanation that heavy fog caused the poor conditions. Beijing’s Environmental Protection Bureau, whose official pollution readings of the larger PM10 particles have prompted skepticism, declared air quality to have reached a crisis level even as the China Daily reported on Monday that the amount of smaller and more dangerous PM2.5 had actually decreased over the past ten years. Readings from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, reported hourly via Twitter despite demands from the Chinese government in 2009 to stop doing so, has differed greatly with and challenged the validity of Beijing’s data.  In response to recent public outcry, Beijing announced plans to publish more detailed air quality data last Friday. From ...
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