After a winter of clear blue skies, pollution is back in the Chinese capital, with air quality returning to its usual hazardous levels.
Face masks on: pollution is back in Beijing
Thick smog and sandstorms are blanketing Beijing. Pedestrians are once again pulling out masks and scarves to cover their faces when they venture out.
Here’s what Beijing residents and visitors are saying about the pollution.
Beijing authorities issued a fourth-level Blue pollution alert after PM levels rose on Wednesday. PM, which stands for particulate matter, are tiny drops of polluting matter that can cause serious health problems when ingested. The smaller the size, the more dangerous the particle.
On Wednesday morning, the average PM10 level across the city exceeded 1,000 micrograms per cubic meter, while PM2.5, the small particles deemed most harmful to health, stood at just under 200 micrograms per cubic meter, according to data from China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment.
According to the World Health Organization, a PM2.5 of more than 25 micrograms per cubic meter within 24 hours is harmful to the health. China sets the threshold at 75.
Beijing’s PM2.5 concentrations have been falling. They averaged 58 in 2017 – a 20.5% reduction compared to the year before.
Beijing’s environmental monitoring center said the pollution was being caused by sandstorms originating in Mongolia, which is a common occurrence in the spring months.
But sandstorms aren’t the only issue. Over the weekend, the national environment ministry announced a smog alert for the capital and 33 other cities in northern China.
The reason? Factories have been ramping up again, after special restrictions imposed on polluting industries during the winter were lifted.
The restrictions had been imposed on two dozen cities in northern China from mid-November to mid-March. During those bitterly cold months, residents tend to crank up the heat, which contributes significantly to pollution.
Huang Wei, a climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia, told Inkstone that the winter restrictions were only temporarily effective in improving air quality.
"As soon as the restrictions are lifted, especially if the weather is bad, pollution will return," Huang said.
China is planning to introduce tougher anti-pollution goals under a new three-year plan to win the “battle for blue skies.”
For now, it’s back to face masks in the capital.