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China pollution results in factory closures, flight cancellations

January 13, 2013|By Barbara Demick
  • With air quality from Beijing to Guiyang at unprecedented lows, a visitor to Tiananmen Square wears a mask in the capital. Many people have refused to go outside.
With air quality from Beijing to Guiyang at unprecedented lows, a visitor… (Ng Han Guan / Associated…)

BEIJING -- A prolonged spell of air pollution across a large area of China has led to the cancellation of flights and sporting activities and the closure of highways, factories and construction sites.

From Beijing to Guiyang, 1,400 miles to the southwest, the thick soup of pollution led the Chinese government to urge people to "avoid outdoor activities," and Beijing education authorities to cancel school gym classes.

As an emergency measure, the Beijing Environmental Protection Ministry announced Sunday that factories and construction sites had agreed to reduce or stop work entirely until the air cleared up.

The U.S. embassy in Beijing on Saturday night recorded fine particulate matter at 886 micrograms per cubic meter, the highest since monitoring began in 2007. The air quality index ranking of 755 was also far off the charts, which consider 300 to 500 to be “hazardous.” While in the past the Chinese government has criticized the embassy for scaremongering, their own monitors over the weekend gave readings that were also dire, showing pollution as hazardous in 33 cities.

"The air pollution is unprecedented. This is the first time in China’s history we have seen it this bad,’’ said Zhao Zhangyuan of the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences.

Although the numbers were lower Sunday, air quality was still at hazardous levels for more than 100 million Chinese.

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