Share

Super Smog Hits China; Flights Cancelled

Louise Watt
Published: October 21, 2013

Harbin, China

Harbin, China

A woman wearing a mask uses her mobile phone in the smog in Harbin, northeast China's Heilongjiang province, on October 21, 2013. Clouds of pollution are cutting visibility to 10 meters (33 feet) and underscoring the nation's environmental challenges. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Harbin, China
  • Harbin, China
  • Harbin, China
  • Harbin, China
  • Air Pollution Blankets Beijing
  • Beijing, China
  • Fuyang City, China
  • Huaibei, China
  • The Forbidden City, China
  • Beijing, China
  • Beijing, China
  • Beijing, China
  • Harbin, China

BEIJING -- Visibility shrank to less than half a football field and small-particle pollution soared to a record 40 times higher than an international safety standard in one northern Chinese city as the region entered its high-smog season.

The manager for U.S. jazz singer Patti Austin, meanwhile, said the singer had canceled a concert in Beijing because of an asthma attack likely linked to pollution.

(MORE: Beijing Forecast)

Winter typically brings the worst air pollution to northern China because of a combination of weather conditions and an increase in the burning of coal for homes and municipal heating systems, which usually starts on a specific date. For the large northern city of Harbin, the city's heating systems kicked in on Sunday, and on Monday visibility there was less than 50 meters (yards), according to state media.

"I couldn't see anything outside the window of my apartment, and I thought it was snowing," Wu Kai, 33, a housewife and mother of a baby boy, said in a telephone interview from Harbin. "Then I realized it wasn't snow. I have not seen the sun for a long time."

She said her husband went to work in a mask, that he could barely see a few meters (yards) ahead of him and that his usual bus had stopped running.

"It's scary, too dangerous. How could people drive or walk on such a day?"

The density of fine particulate matter, PM2.5, used as an indicator of air quality was well above 600 micrograms per cubic meter - including several readings of exactly 1,000 - for several monitoring stations in Harbin, according to figures posted on the website of China's environmental protection agency. They were the first known readings of 1,000 since China began releasing figures on PM2.5 in January 2012, and it was not immediately clear if the devices used for monitoring could give readings higher than that.

A safe level under WHO guidelines is 25 micrograms per cubic meter.

Primary and middle schools and some highways were closed, said authorities in the city, which is in China's northernmost province bordering Russia. At least 40 flights to destinations in southern China and Beijing among others were canceled or postponed at Harbin's Taiping International Airport on Monday morning.

Austin's management team said the 63-year-old singer had been treated in a hospital Friday morning for an asthma attack in combination with a respiratory infection. She returned to her hotel later Friday to rest, but was unable to perform at her Beijing concert scheduled for Friday evening. Her Saturday night concert in Shanghai went ahead.

Her manager, Barry Orms, said Monday that Austin, as an asthma sufferer, would have been "affected by the amount of pollution." He said that it wasn't their goal to place blame, and that "Patti has expressed our belief that the Chinese government can be a leader in this very important issue."

(MORE: Air Quality and Pollution Forecast)

On the morning ahead of her concert Friday, Beijing's air was visibly polluted, with the city's environmental monitoring center warning children, the elderly and those with respiratory illnesses to reduce outdoor activity.

China's major cities have some of the world's worst smog. The government was long indifferent to the environment as it pursued economic development, but has begun launching some anti-pollution initiatives after mounting public frustration.

Last month, China's Cabinet released an action plan that aims to make a small reduction in the country's heavy reliance on coal to below 65 percent of total energy usage by 2017. According to Chinese government statistics, coal consumption accounted for 68.4 percent of total energy use in 2011.

MORE: The Sun is Thermonuclear?


Featured Blogs

Quietest Atlantic Hurricane Season Since 1986

By Dr. Jeff Masters
October 1, 2014

The traditional busiest month of the Atlantic hurricane season, September, is now over, and we are on the home stretch. Just three weeks remain of the peak danger portion of the season. September 2014 ended up with just two named storms forming--Dolly and Edouard. With only five named storms so far in 2014, this is the quietest Atlantic hurricane season since 1986, when we also had just five named storms by the beginning of October.

Another Record Rainfall in Southern France

By Christopher C. Burt
September 30, 2014

It is hard to believe that another rainstorm of equal intensity to that which I blogged about just 11 days ago has again struck the Languedoc Region of Southern France. This time the focus of the storm was centered over the city of Montpellier, Herault District, near the Mediterranean Coast.

Live Blog: Tracking Hurricane Arthur as it Approaches North Carolina Coast

By Shaun Tanner
July 3, 2014

This is a live blog set up to provide the latest coverage on Hurricane Arthur as it threatens the North Carolina Coast. Check back often to see what the latest is with Arthur. The most recent updates are at the top.

Tropical Terminology

By Stu Ostro
June 30, 2014

Here is some basic, fundamental terminology related to tropical cyclones. Rather than a comprehensive and/or technical glossary, this represents the essence of the meaning & importance of some key, frequently used terms.

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.