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Pollution soars in Beijing after New Lunar Year fireworks celebration

Beijing was choked by smog on Saturday after residents set off fireworks to usher in the Lunar New Year, with the PM2.5 count hitting the second highest level in five years.

world Updated: Jan 28, 2017 21:07 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis
Hindustan Times, Beijing
Beijing residents celebrate the Lunar New Year by bursting crackers on Saturday early morning.(Reuters)

After a night of fireworks frenzy to usher in the Lunar New Year, Beijing residents woke up to choking smog on Saturday, with the air quality index (AQI) crossing the hazardous limit on the first day of the new year.

The Beijing government had launched a campaign that asked residents to refrain from setting off fireworks and imposed restrictions on the sale of crackers.

State media reported sales of fireworks this year were down by nearly 5% compared to last year.

A message circulated by the Beijing municipal government restricted the time for setting off fireworks, saying residents could burst crackers the whole day on Friday and Saturday and from 7 am to midnight from Sunday to February 11.

“Please set off fewer or no fireworks in an effort to reduce air pollution. And if there is a red or orange alert on air pollution, fireworks will be banned,” the message said.

Clearly, the steps were not enough.

Saturday was a clear day in Beijing but by late night, with the bursting of firecrackers intensifying, air quality rapidly declined and a sharp increase in pollution was recorded.

Visitors at the temple fair at Ditan Park (the Temple of Earth) wear face masks to protect themselves against the pollution. ( Reuters )

According to the state-run China News Service (CNS), the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau said harmful particulate matter in the air had hit the second highest level in five years by Saturday morning.

“Due to fireworks and the lack of wind, the city's density of PM2.5, airborne particles smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter, hit a peak of 647 micrograms per cubic meter at 2 am Saturday, down 7.6% from the same time of the last lunar new year,” state-run Global Times newspaper reported, quoting the Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center.

“That was well beyond the upper limit of 500 on China’s air quality index and double the threshold considered hazardous,” a Reuters report said.

“A recent poll on 1,000 residents in the capital showed 83% of interviewees said they would not set off fireworks during Spring Festival. This was 6.4 percentage points higher than last year,” the Global Times reported.

According to CNS, the capital approved just 511 stores for selling firecrackers for the holiday period, down from 719 last year, with none of them within the Third Ring Road. “In Shanghai, which has a population of 24 million, just seven outlets have been given licenses - all of them in suburban districts - compared with 77 last year,” the report said.

First Published: Jan 28, 2017 19:20 IST