Beijing air pollution reaches hazardous levels


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Beijing air pollution reaches hazardous levels

Smog in China as seen from space

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BEIJING, CHINA - DECEMBER 01: (CHINA OUT) Three men walk toward the Capital International Airport in heavy smog on December 1, 2015 in Beijing, China. Beijing has lasted smoggy days for more than one month in winter this year with a higher AQI reaching to 500 on Tuesday which has been rated as heavy pollution. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - DECEMBER 01: (CHINA OUT) Visitors play in Temple of Heaven even with heavy smog on December 1, 2015 in Beijing, China. Beijing has lasted smoggy days for more than one month in winter this year with a higher AQI reaching to 500 on Tuesday which has been rated as heavy pollution. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - DECEMBER 01: A Chinese woman covers her face from pollution as she waits to cross a road on December 1, 2015 in Beijing, China. China's capital and many cities in the northern part of the country recorded the worst smog of the year with air quality devices in some areas unable to read such high levels of pollutants. Levels of PM 2.5, considered the most hazardous, crossed 600 units in Beijing, nearly 25 times the acceptable standard set by the World Health Organization. The governments of more than 190 countries are meeting in Paris this week to set targets on reducing carbon emissions in an attempt to forge a new global agreement on climate change. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - DECEMBER 01: (CHINA OUT) Three men walk toward the Capital International Airport in heavy smog on December 1, 2015 in Beijing, China. Beijing has lasted smoggy days for more than one month in winter this year with a higher AQI reaching to 500 on Tuesday which has been rated as heavy pollution. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
A tricycle taxi rider waits for customers on a heavily polluted evening in Beijing on December 1, 2015. Beijing ordered hundreds of factories to shut and allowed children to skip school as choking smog reached over 25 times safe levels on December 1, casting a cloud over China's participation in Paris climate talks. AFP PHOTO / GREG BAKER / AFP / GREG BAKER (Photo credit should read GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images)
A magpie flies in heavy pollution in Beijing on December 1, 2015. Beijing ordered hundreds of factories to shut and allowed children to skip school as choking smog reached over 25 times safe levels on December 1, casting a cloud over China's participation in Paris climate talks. AFP PHOTO / WANG ZHAO / AFP / WANG ZHAO (Photo credit should read WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images)
Ground-staff (L) are seen under an Air China plane at the airport on a polluted day in Beijing on December 1, 2015. China has ordered thousands of factories to shut as it grapples with swathes of choking smog that were nearly 24 times safe levels on December 1, casting a shadow over the country's participation in Paris climate talks. A thick grey haze shrouded Beijing, with the concentration of PM 2.5, harmful microscopic particles that penetrate deep into the lungs, climbing as high as 598 micrograms per cubic metre AFP PHOTO / FRED DUFOUR / AFP / FRED DUFOUR (Photo credit should read FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images)
A skyscraper is shrouded in smog on a heavily polluted day in Beijing on December 1, 2015. China has ordered thousands of factories to shut as it grapples with swathes of choking smog that were nearly 24 times safe levels on December 1, casting a shadow over the country's participation in Paris climate talks. A thick grey haze shrouded Beijing, with the concentration of PM 2.5, harmful microscopic particles that penetrate deep into the lungs, climbing as high as 598 micrograms per cubic metre. AFP PHOTO / GREG BAKER / AFP / GREG BAKER (Photo credit should read GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - DECEMBER 01: A man rides a bicycle on a day of heavy pollution on December 1, 2015 in Beijing, China. China's capital and many cities in the northern part of the country recorded the worst smog of the year with air quality devices in some areas unable to read such high levels of pollutants. Levels of PM 2.5, considered the most hazardous, crossed 600 units in Beijing, nearly 25 times the acceptable standard set by the World Health Organization. The governments of more than 190 countries are meeting in Paris this week to set targets on reducing carbon emissions in an attempt to forge a new global agreement on climate change. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - DECEMBER 01: A Chinese worker wearing a mask on a day of heavy pollution on December 1, 2015 in Beijing, China. China's capital and many cities in the northern part of the country recorded the worst smog of the year with air quality devices in some areas unable to read such high levels of pollutants. Levels of PM 2.5, considered the most hazardous, crossed 600 units in Beijing, nearly 25 times the acceptable standard set by the World Health Organization. The governments of more than 190 countries are meeting in Paris this week to set targets on reducing carbon emissions in an attempt to forge a new global agreement on climate change. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - DECEMBER 01: Smog is seen on a day of high pollution at the Temple of Heaven park on December 1, 2015 in Beijing, China. China's capital and many cities in the northern part of the country recorded the worst smog of the year with air quality devices in some areas unable to read such high levels of pollutants. Levels of PM 2.5, considered the most hazardous, crossed 600 units in Beijing, nearly 25 times the acceptable standard set by the World Health Organization. The governments of more than 190 countries are meeting in Paris this week to set targets on reducing carbon emissions in an attempt to forge a new global agreement on climate change. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - DECEMBER 01: A Chinese woman wears a mask as protection from the pollution as she waits to cross a road on December 1, 2015 in Beijing, China. China's capital and many cities in the northern part of the country recorded the worst smog of the year with air quality devices in some areas unable to read such high levels of pollutants. Levels of PM 2.5, considered the most hazardous, crossed 600 units in Beijing, nearly 25 times the acceptable standard set by the World Health Organization. The governments of more than 190 countries are meeting in Paris this week to set targets on reducing carbon emissions in an attempt to forge a new global agreement on climate change. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
CHANGCHUN, Nov. 10, 2015 -- Buildings are cloaked by smog in Changchun, capital of northeast China's Jilin Province, Nov. 10, 2015. Heavy air pollution in northeast China will continue until Nov. 14, partially fueled by burning coal for public heating, according to the Ministry of Environmental Protection. (Xinhua/Lin Hong via Getty Images)
WEIFANG, CHINA - NOVEMBER 12: (CHINA OUT) A citizen wears a face mask while walking in dense smog on November 12, 2015 in Weifang, Shandong Province of China. Shandong Meteorological Bureau has issued yellow alert early morning as most of cities are hit by heavy smog. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
LIAOCHENG, CHINA - NOVEMBER 12: (CHINA OUT) Elderly citizens drive a tricycle in dense smog on November 12, 2015 in Liaocheng, Shandong Province of China. Shandong Meteorological Bureau has issued yellow alert early morning as most of cities are hit by heavy smog. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
JINAN, CHINA - NOVEMBER 12: (CHINA OUT) A traffic police officer wears a face mask while working in dense smog on November 12, 2015 in Jinan, Shandong Province of China. Shandong Meteorological Bureau has issued yellow alert early morning as most of cities are hit by heavy smog. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
JINAN, CHINA - NOVEMBER 12: (CHINA OUT) A citizen wears face mask while riding in dense smog on November 12, 2015 in Jinan, Shandong Province of China. Shandong Meteorological Bureau has issued yellow alert early morning as most of cities are hit by heavy smog. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
JINAN, CHINA - NOVEMBER 12: (CHINA OUT) Citizens exercise in dense smog on November 12, 2015 in Jinan, Shandong Province of China. Shandong Meteorological Bureau has issued yellow alert early morning as most of cities are hit by heavy smog. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
WEIFANG, CHINA - NOVEMBER 12: (CHINA OUT) Citizens wear face masks while riding in dense smog on November 12, 2015 in Weifang, Shandong Province of China. Shandong Meteorological Bureau has issued yellow alert early morning as most of cities are hit by heavy smog. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
LIAOCHENG, CHINA - NOVEMBER 12: (CHINA OUT) A citizen wears a face mask while riding in dense smog on November 12, 2015 in Liaocheng, Shandong Province of China. Shandong Meteorological Bureau has issued yellow alert early morning as most of cities are hit by heavy smog. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - NOVEMBER 12: Famous Beihai Park is blanketed by heavy smog on November 12, 2015 in Beijing, China. on November 12, 2015 in Beijing, China. Air pollution in north China is heavier as people start to use more heating. (Photo by Xiao Lu Chu/Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - NOVEMBER 12: The Forbidden City is blanketed by heavy smog on November 12, 2015 in Beijing, China. on November 12, 2015 in Beijing, China. Air pollution in north China is heavier as people start to use more heating. (Photo by Xiao Lu Chu/Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - NOVEMBER 12: (CHINA OUT) A guard wearing face mask stands in heavy smog on November 12, 2015 in Beijing, China. Beijing continues to suffer from dense smog air with its AQI (Air Quality Index) reaching to 234 in the afternoon which has been judged as heavy pollution. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - NOVEMBER 12: (CHINA OUT) Visitors walk in Tian'anmen square in heavy smog on November 12, 2015 in Beijing, China. Beijing continues to suffer from dense smog air with its AQI (Air Quality Index) reaching to 234 in the afternoon which has been judged as heavy pollution. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
HARBIN, CHINA - NOVEMBER 10: (CHINA OUT) A woman takes selfies in the dense smog on November 10, 2015 in Harbin, Heilongjiang Province of China. Heavy air pollution occurred after the coal-burning heating systems were put into use in the cities of Northeast China. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
HARBIN, CHINA - NOVEMBER 10: (CHINA OUT) The Saint Sophia Cathedral is shrouded in the dense smog on November 10, 2015 in Harbin, Heilongjiang Province of China. Heavy air pollution occurred after the coal-burning heating systems were put into use in the cities of Northeast China. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
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BEIJING (AP) — Schools in the Chinese capital kept students indoors and parents brought their kids to hospitals with breathing ailments Tuesday as Beijing grappled with extremely severe air pollution for the fifth straight day.

The heavy smog erased the capital's skylines with a monotonous gray and left buildings just a block or two away hardly discernable. Neon signs barely punctured the gloom, and many Beijingers wore masks of various kinds while walking the streets.

"It's the worst day so far this year," said Liu Feifie, a 36-year-old mother and Internet company employee. "I feel my throat totally congested with phlegm and it feels very itchy. But I'm more concerned about the health of my 7-year-old kid."

Readings of the tiny poisonous PM2.5 particles reached into the high 600s micrograms per cubic meter through the capital, as compared with the World Health Organization safe level of 25. Some suburban neighborhoods logged levels up in the 900s on Monday.

Outside a packed children's hospital in downtown Beijing, parents and grandparents complained about the smog's impact on small children and say the pollution has made their children vulnerable to illnesses such as throat infections and the flu.

"The government is supposed to be tackling the pollution, so we need to see the effects. If in a few years the situation does not change, we will consider leaving," said Yin Lina, who brought her 5-year-old daughter to the hospital with a stuffed nose.

Several hospitals in Beijing contacted by the AP declined to provide figures on patient visits, or their symptoms, during the period of smog.

The pollution spike is a reminder of China's severe environmental challenges as President Xi Jinping joins other world leaders at the Paris climate conference.

Factories and construction sites were told to reduce work after the city government on Sunday issued its first orange alert — the second highest of four warning levels — in almost two years.

China's cities are among the world's dirtiest after three decades of explosive economic growth that led to construction of hundreds of coal-fired power plants and the spread of automobile ownership.

Communist leaders have tightened emissions standards and are investing in solar, wind and other renewable energy. But the country still depends on coal for more than 60 percent of its power.

Beijing has vowed to clean up its notoriously foul air and had been doing fairly well prior to the latest stretch of pollution, with generally cleaner air than in 2014.

Tests found coal burning to be to blame for the bulk of the latest pollution surge, the official Xinhua News Agency said, citing Zhang Dawei, head of the city's environmental monitoring center.

Power demand soared due to unusually cold weather in November. For most of that month, the capital was shrouded in persistent smog.

Air quality worsened on Friday and deteriorated throughout the weekend. Authorities said they avoided issuing the highest-level alert because conditions were forecast to improve by Wednesday.

Beijing schools were ordered to stop outdoor activities. A primary school in the Xicheng district on the west side sent a message to parents that classes were canceled Tuesday.

Conditions were worsened by cold air that trapped pollutants near the ground, according to Zhang, the environment official. He said pollution from surrounding areas also blew into the capital.

Outside Beijing, reduced visibility due to heavy fog prompted authorities to close 1,553 highway sections in central, eastern and southern China, the Transportation Ministry said on its website.

Gao Yang, 35, a teacher who lives in coastal city of Tianjin, said he was trapped in Beijing while on a business trip because of the closed highways. "I can do nothing but park my car at the hotel and wait until the smog goes away," Gao said.

Forecasters expected winds to clear the smog before Wednesday.

Outside Beijing, readings for PM2.5 were was as high as 976 micrograms in the suburban region of Liulihe.

Several cities in the northern province of Hebei, which surrounds Beijing, also reported extremely polluted air.

Inspectors from the Ministry of Environmental Protection found some construction projects flouted orders Monday to stop work that could raise dust, according to Xinhua.

___

AP news assistant Dong Tongjian contributed to this report.


Thick Smog Continues to Choke Beijing

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