Beijing Air Pollution at Dangerously High Levels Again

January 18, 2014

Vehicles are driven along a road on January 16, 2014 in Beijing, China. (ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)

BEIJING -- A dense fog shrouded Beijing's skyscrapers as China's capital saw its first wave of dangerous pollution in 2014, with the concentration of toxins registering more than 24 times the level considered safe.

The air took on an acrid odor, and many of the city's commuters wore industrial strength face masks as they hurried to work.

"I couldn't see the tall buildings across the street this morning," said a traffic coordinator at a busy Beijing intersection who gave only his surname, Zhang. "The smog has gotten worse in the last two to three years. I often cough, and my nose is always irritated. But what can you do? I drink more water to help my body discharge the toxins."

(MORE: Cracks in Sea Ice Causing a Much Bigger Problem)

The city's air quality is often poor, especially in winter when stagnant weather patterns combine with an increase in coal-burning to exacerbate other forms of pollution and create periods of heavy smog for days at a time. But the readings early Thursday for particles of PM2.5 pollution marked the first ones of the season above 500 micrograms per cubic meter.

The density of PM2.5 was about 350 to 500 micrograms Thursday midmorning, though the air started to clear in the afternoon. It had reached as high as 671 at 4 a.m. at a monitoring post at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. That is about 26 times as high as the 25 micrograms considered safe by the World Health Organization, and was the highest reading since January 2013.

Serious air pollution plagues most major Chinese cities, where environmental protection has been long sacrificed for the sake of economic development. Coal burning and car emissions are major sources of pollution. In recent years, China has beefed up regulations and pledged financial resources to fight pollution.

(WATCH: Eerie Discovery Made in the French Alps)

In the far northeastern city of Harbin, some monitoring sites reported PM 2.5 rates of up to 1,000 micrograms in October, when the winter heating season kicked off. In December, dirty air gripped the coastal city of Shanghai and its neighboring provinces for days, with the density of PM 2.5 exceeding 600.

Beijing authorities said the haze on Thursday had reduced the visibility to several hundred meters (yards) and that the severe pollution was likely to continue through Friday.

Featured Blogs

Unseasonable Sandra: Hurricane Threat for Mexico, Torrential Rain in Southern Plains

By Dr. Jeff Masters
November 25, 2015

Holiday travel during the busy Saturday/Sunday Thanksgiving weekend across portions of the Southern Plains will get disrupted by a most unusual occurrence--flooding rains and a potential ice storm, enhanced by moisture from the strongest Eastern Pacific hurricane observed so late in the year. Declared a hurricane on Tuesday night, Sandra may reach Category 3 strength before weakening and approaching the Mexican coast on Friday or Saturday. Sandra's moisture will feed into a large-scale heavy rain event: flash flood watches are already in effect from far north Texas to southwest Illinois .On the northwest edge of the heavy rain swath, there should be a parallel strip with low-level temperatures cold enough for mostly light but widespread freezing rain, sleet, and/or snow, with an initial round from Thanksgiving Day into Friday and perhaps a second batch over the weekend as another lobe rotates around the sprawling upper-level low.

Incredible November Warmth for Portions of the U.S., Europe and Beyond

By Christopher C. Burt
November 10, 2015

The first 10 days of November 2015 have seen record-breaking warmth for many locations in Florida and elsewhere in the U.S. while all-time November monthly national heat records have so far been broken in the U.K., Ireland, France, Estonia, Slovenia, and Finland. All-time record heat (for any month) was also observed in parts of Australia and French Guiana. Here is a brief summary.

An extraordinary meteorological event; was one of its results a 1000-year flood?

By Stu Ostro
October 5, 2015

The confluence of meteorological ingredients the first weekend in October 2015 resulted in an extraordinary weather event with severe impacts. Was one of them a 1000-year flood?

Why the Arrest of a Science-Loving 14-year-old Matters

By Shaun Tanner
September 16, 2015

By now, many of you have heard or read about the arrest of Ahmed Mohamed, a 14-year-old high school student from Irving, Texas. Ahmed was arrested because school officials called the police after he showed one of his teachers his homemade clock. Mistaken for a bomb, Ahmed was taken into custody, interrogated, shamed, suspended (still on suspension today, Wednesday), and reprimanded. All of this after it has been found that the "device" he brought to school was indeed, a homemade clock.

2013-14 - An Interesting Winter From A to Z

By Tom Niziol
May 15, 2014

It was a very interesting winter across a good part of the nation from the Rockies through the Plains to the Northeast. Let's break down the most significant winter storms on a month by month basis.

What the 5th IPCC Assessment Doesn't Include

By Angela Fritz
September 27, 2013

Melting permafrost has the potential to release an additional 1.5 trillion tons of carbon into the atmosphere, and could increase our global average temperature by 1.5°F in addition to our day-to-day human emissions. However, this effect is not included in the IPCC report issued Friday morning, which means the estimates of how Earth's climate will change are likely on the conservative side.