China Unveils Emergency Smog Measures


By Roy Maurer October 28, 2013

The Beijing municipal government announced new emergency measures to combat the city’s notorious air pollution, including mandatory factory closures and traffic bans.

The Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau released the Heavy Air Pollution Contingency Plan on Oct. 22, 2013, which sets four alert levels: blue, yellow, orange and red.

The alerts are activated when the pollution index is forecast to exceed 300 micrograms of fine particulate matter per cubic meter for three consecutive days. The World Health Organization considers 20-25 micrograms to be a safe level.

The emergency measures apply only to industries and individuals in Beijing, even though as much as 60 percent of the city’s air pollution originates in neighboring provinces, according to the bureau.

The plan’s alerts work like this: a forecast of “severe” pollution for one day triggers the blue alert; “heavy” pollution for one to three consecutive days triggers yellow; alternating severe and heavy pollution for three consecutive days, orange; and heavy pollution for three consecutive days, red.

When the orange alert is issued, major polluters will have to stop production, and some construction sites will also be shut down, according to CCTV, the state-run television network.

When the red alert is issued, the plan calls for 80 percent of public vehicles in the city and half of private vehicles to stay off the roads, based on an odd and even license-plate-number system. Freight vehicles and those transporting material for construction sites will also be banned from the roads when the red alert is issued. Kindergarten and middle-school classes will be canceled to protect students’ health. The government will give the public 24 hours’ notice via local radio, television, newspapers and social media platforms, the bureau said.

A spokesman for Greenpeace East Asia told CNN: “The new emergency measures show the government’s determination to tackle the air pollution in Beijing … but what is problematic is that those emergency measures are only targeted to those polluted days. It is rather a remedial measure than a preventative measure, and just to repair won’t help the issue in the long run.”

The World Health Organization has classified outdoor air pollution as a carcinogen and a leading cause of cancer in humans.

The air pollution levels in Beijing and other northern Chinese cities have been hazardous for years. In some parts of Harbin, the capital of northeastern Heilongjiang province and home to some 11 million people, readings reached 1,000 micrograms, according to the Xinhua news agency. Beijing itself surpassed 900 micrograms in January 2013.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him at @SHRMRoy

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