14:47 22 October 2013
Smog has managed to force an emergency shutdown of one of China's 10 biggest cities.
Harbin's population of 11 million has seen its schools close and flights cancelled as visibility dropped to below 50m (160ft) in some areas of the city. Another news agency claimed that levels were down to just 10 meters.
Zhang Xiaofeng, a 24-year-old bulldozer driver was quoted by the Washington post as claiming that his eyes stung and he was coughing due to the smog. He said: “I did not even dare to cross the street. I waited and waited at the intersection and looked again and again, but I couldn’t see if any cars were coming. Even the traffic lights were invisible.”
An index measuring PM2.5, or particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5), reached a peak level of 1,000 in some parts of the city. A level over 300 is deemed hazardous by the World Health Organisation - a body which also advises that daily levels should not exceed 20.
Some sources have blamed the emergency on the city's central heating system which was turned on on that day to ready the city for winter.
The air quality in Chinese cities has become a national and international environmental issue. While the Chinese government has announced plans to tackle the problem via substantial cuts in using coal, little appears to have been put into motion.
“The central government has recognized the fundamental cause — which is its overuse of coal — and what sort of solution should be taken,” said Huang Wei, of Greenpeace in Beijing.
Last winter, Beijing befell a smog emergency when the PM2.5 level hit 900 during one day in January.
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