Air pollution in one city surpasses WHO guideline by 100 times

BEIJING (Reuters) - Concentrations of airborne pollutants in a major northern Chinese city exceeded a World Health Organisation (WHO) guideline by 100 times on Monday as north China battled with poor air quality for the third straight day.

In Shijiazhuang, capital of northern Hebei province, levels of PM 2.5, fine particulate matter, soared to 1,000 micrograms per cubic meter, state-run Xinhua News Agency reported on Monday. That compares with a WHO guideline of an annual average of no more than 10 micrograms.

In nearby Tianjin city, authorities grounded dozens of flights for the second day and closed all highways after severe smog blanketed the port city, one of more than 40 in China's northeast to issue pollution warnings.

PM 2.5 levels hit 334 micrograms per cubic meter in Tianjin as of 4 p.m. local time, according to local environmental protection authorities.

In Beijing, PM 2.5 levels were at 212 micrograms per cubic meter.

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People, some wearing face mask against pollution, follow performers during a re-enactment of an ancient Qing Dynasty ceremony as the Lunar New Year of the Rooster is celebrated at the temple fair at Ditan Park (the Temple of Earth), in Beijing, China January 28, 2017.

(REUTERS/Damir Sagolj)

Apartment buildings rise into the smog filled skyline June 30, 2015 in Chengdu, China. First inhabited more than 4 thousand years ago, Chengdu now has more than 14 million people living in its metropolitan area. It is China's 5th most populous city and the provincial capital of Sichuan Province in southwest China. The city is is struggling to maintain its ancient cultural identity, while becoming a modern major tech and industrial center.

(Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

A delegate wearing the mask walks to the Great Hall of the People during severe pollution before the opening of the 2nd session of the 12th Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) on March 3, 2014 in Beijing, China. Air pollution has become a big concern during the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. Over 2,000 members of the 12th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative, a political advisory body, are attending the annual session, during which they will discuss the development of China.

(Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)

This picture taken on June 23, 2015 shows vehicles running in smog covered streets in Beijing. China's cities are often hit by heavy pollution, blamed on coal-burning by power stations and industry, as well as vehicle use. The issue has become a major source of popular discontent with the Communist Party, leading the government to vow to reduce the proportion of energy derived from fossil fuels.

(STR/AFP/Getty Images)

People wear face masks as they cross a street on a polluted day in Beijing, China January 4, 2017.

(REUTERS/Thomas Peter)

Buildings are seen in smog during a polluted day in Beijing, China, January 26, 2017.

(REUTERS/Stringer)

A woman sits on the back of a motorcycle in smog during a polluted day in Liaocheng, Shandong province, China, December 19, 2016.

(REUTERS/Stringer)

This picture taken on June 23, 2015 shows a cyclist wearing a mask in Beijing covered by heavy smog. China's cities are often hit by heavy pollution, blamed on coal-burning by power stations and industry, as well as vehicle use. The issue has become a major source of popular discontent with the Communist Party, leading the government to vow to reduce the proportion of energy derived from fossil fuels.

(STR/AFP/Getty Images)

A Chinese woman wearing a face mask walks in front of the Forbidden City on a hazy day in Beijing on June 23, 2015.

(FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images)

People exercise among heavy smog in Hefei, Anhui province, China, January 3, 2017.

(REUTERS/Stringer)

This picture taken on March 29, 2014 shows residents breathing 'mountain air' from blue bags in a square in Zhengzhou in central China's Henan province, reportedly brought in from 190 kms away by a Henan-based travel company as part of a promotional event. Premature deaths and health problems from air pollution cost China as much as 300 billion USD a year, an official joint report by the World Bank and the Development Research Center of the State Council said on March 25, calling for a new urbanization model for the world's second-largest economy.

(STR/AFP/Getty Images)

People with mask walk in Nanluoguxiang on April 9, 2014 in Beijing, China. China is vowing to amend its procedures to curb pollution as smog in some areas of China have registered over 20 times the level considered safe by the World Health Organization (WHO)

(Photo by Xiao Lu Chu/Getty Images)

This picture taken on March 29, 2014 shows residents breathing 'mountain air' from blue bags in a square in Zhengzhou in central China's Henan province, reportedly brought in from 190 kms away by a Henan-based travel company as part of a promotional event. Premature deaths and health problems from air pollution cost China as much as 300 billion USD a year, an official joint report by the World Bank and the Development Research Center of the State Council said on March 25, calling for a new urbanization model for the world's second-largest economy.

(STR/AFP/Getty Images)

This picture taken on March 26, 2014 shows a girl wearing a mask in Beijing as environmental authorities issued a 'yellow' smog alert for the capital. Chinese companies have offered up a fresh idea to help pollution-weary travelers while cashing in on public concerns over dirty air at the same time -- smog insurance.

(STR/AFP/Getty Images)

The people wear face mask walking on the road in smog in Beijing, China, on March 26, 2014. Chinese authorities suggest that old people and those who are sensitive should not get out from their house. Symbolic buildings of Beijing cannot seen due to the air pollution.

(Photo by Ali Ihsan Cam/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Citizens wearing breathe masks look at a smartphone in the heavy smog on January 9, 2017 in Zhengzhou, Henan Province of China. The Central Meteorological Observatory issued a yellow alert of smog in Zhengzhou on Sunday night. The visibility downs to below 50 meters at parts of Zhengzhou city on Monday morning.

(Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)

A traffic police works among heavy smog during a polluted day in Bozhou, Anhui province, China, February 5, 2017.

(REUTERS/Stringer)

Passengers board a train among heavy smog during a polluted day in Bozhou, Anhui province, China, February 5, 2017.

(REUTERS/Stringer)

Masks are pictured on sculptures in a park during a hazy day in Puyang, Henan province, China January 4, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Stringer)

A woman wears a mask as she rides near the Bund during a polluted day in Shanghai, China, January 2, 2017.

(REUTERS/Aly Song)

A cyclist rides along a street in heavy smog during a polluted day in Liaocheng, Shandong province, December 20, 2016. 

(REUTERS/Stringer)

People take videos of a flag-raising ceremony during smog at Tiananmen Square after a red alert was issued for heavy air pollution in Beijing, China, December 20, 2016.

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

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On Saturday, 22 cities issued red alerts, including top steelmaking city Tangshan city in Hebei and Jinan in coal-rich Shandong province. A red alert is the highest possible air pollution warning.

Red alerts are issued when the Air Quality Index (AQI) is forecast to exceed 200 for more than four days in succession, 300 for more than two days or 500 for at least 24 hours. The AQI is a different measure from the PM 2.5 gauge.

Pollution alerts have become increasingly common in China's northern industrial heartland, especially during winter when energy demand - much of it met by coal - skyrockets.

AQI readings at some monitoring stations in seven cities in Hebei peaked above 400 on Monday, with Shijiazhuang and two other cities breaking above the 500 limit, Xinhua said.

Anything above 300 is considered hazardous by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The National Meteorological Centre warned on Monday on its microblog that this round of pollution is expected to affect 10 provinces, along with the municipalities of Beijing and Tianjin, hitting as far south as Jiangsu and Anhui.

(Reporting by Stella Qiu and Ryan Woo; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

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