March 5, 2014

CHINA: China Smog Drives Masks Out Of Stock As Consumers Rushed To Protect Themselves; WHO Says Beijing Smog Now A Crisis.

Global Post
written by AFP staff
Sunday February 2, 2014

China's biggest online face-mask sellers were running out of stock Wednesday as consumers rushed to protect themselves from smog that has shrouded large swathes of northern China for an entire week.

Beijing's official reading for PM 2.5 -- small airborne particles which easily penetrate the lungs and have been linked to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths -- stood at 501 micrograms per cubic metre on Wednesday afternoon. The World Health Organisation's recommended safe limit is 25.

An alternative measure by the US embassy in Beijing said PM 2.5 levels were at 542 in the city. In Shijiazhuang in the neighbouring province of Hebei, official Chinese statistics put the figure at 661.

The capital was on its sixth day of an "orange" smog alert -- the second-highest on the scale -- with the air tasting gritty and visibility down to a few hundred metres.

The choking smog has seen sales of anti-pollution products boom and online face-mask stores were struggling to meet demand.

Of the 29 models of face-masks provided by US industrial and equipment supplier 3M's flagship store on, a business-to-consumer shopping platform, 26 were sold out or unavailable on Wednesday.

The Tmall outlet of Totobobo, which makes transparent reusable masks in Singapore, put up a notice saying new stocks would not be available until April 1.

Another seller, Vogmask, had only children's models left on its Tmall store.

"I'm looking for face-masks and an air purifier as the smog is getting worse. And then I found masks were sold out and the price of air purifiers is shooting up. Is everybody panicking?" complained a user with the online handle Simao's Early Riser Mum on Sina Weibo, a Chinese equivalent of Twitter.

Concerns over the impact on children's health were particularly heightened, with most schools in Beijing keeping students indoors all day long according to Chinese media reports.

One school in the city defied education authorities by keeping its junior high department closed on Wednesday.

"Due to the city's air quality forecast... the junior high section will continue to use the online study and question and answer model on February 26," the Affiliated High School of Peking University said in a statement.

Cities across China have been hit by severe air pollution in recent years, much of it caused by emissions from coal-burning power stations.

It has become a major source of popular discontent with the authorities.

President Xi Jinping paid a rare visit to one of Beijing's smog-hit streets Tuesday -- without a face-mask -- drawing praise from Internet users for his latest apparent attempt to portray himself as close to ordinary citizens. One widely shared online headline read: "Breathing the same air, sharing the same fate".

The pollution, which tends to worsen in winter, is blamed on the use of coal for energy, dramatic economic development, increasing car use and climatic factors.

The National Meteorological Centre has said the pollution was expected to continue until Thursday.

In China a pollution index reading above 300 is deemed "hazardous" and everyone is advised to avoid outdoor activities.


Eco News
written by David Twomey
Wednesday February 26, 2014

Beijing has recorded its sixth day in a row of hazardous pollution with residents being warned to wear masks or stay indoors as a precaution.

Reuters News agency reports instruments have measured pollution levels above 450 on an air quality index, nine times the safe level for human beings.

United States Embassy instruments showed levels of PM2.5 averaged 452 micrograms per cubic metre over a 24-hour period.

Skyscrapers in the Chinese capital are barely visible through the haze.

The smog is even threatening crops, local scientists say, with the lack of sunlight reportedly causing a drastic slowdown in plant photosynthesis.

The authorities raised the pollution alert to the second-highest “orange” danger level for the first time late last week after drawing public ire for its ineffective response.

“Of course, on days where pollution levels reach or even exceed the scale we are very concerned and we have to see this as a crisis,” Dr Bernhard Schwartlander, the WHO representative in China, said.

“There’s now clear evidence that, in the long term, high levels of air pollution can actually also cause lung cancer.”

Authorities have introduced countless orders and policies and made innumerable vows to clean up the environment but the problem only seems to get worse.

The government has invested in projects and empowered courts to mete out stiff penalties but enforcement has been patchy at the local level, where authorities often depend on the taxes paid by the polluting industries.

Hebei, a major industrial region that surrounds Beijing, is home to some of the most polluted cities in China.

Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei province, routinely recorded “beyond index” measurements of particulate matter in early 2013.

The China Academy of Sciences identified the province as a major source of noxious smog that hung over Beijing a year ago.

Reuters reports the government said in an action plan for Hebei in September that it would ban new projects in certain industries, close outdated steel and cement facilities and slash coal use.

The province has promised to cut total steel capacity by 86 million tonnes, about 40 per cent of last year’s production, by 2020.

Official data suggests that is starting to happen.

Meanwhile, one man from a smoggy northern city has become the first person in the country to sue the government for failing to curb air pollution, a state-run newspaper reported.

Li Guixin, a resident of Shijiazhuang, has submitted his complaint to a district court, asking the Shijiazhuang Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau to “perform its duty to control air pollution according to the law”, the Yanzhao Metropolis Daily said.

He is also seeking compensation from the agency for residents for the choking pollution that has engulfed Shijiazhuang, and much of northern China, this winter.

It is unclear whether the court will accept Mr Li’s lawsuit.

“The reason that I’m proposing administrative compensation is to let every citizen see that amid this haze, we’re the real victims,” Mr Li was quoted as saying by the newspaper.

Mr Li says he spent money on face masks, an air purifier and a treadmill to get indoor exercise last December when the pollution was particularly severe.

“Besides the threat to our health, we’ve also suffered economic losses, and these losses should be borne by the government and the environmental departments because the government is the recipient of corporate taxes, it is a beneficiary,” he said.

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