BEIJING (dpa) – The worst smog of the winter has enveloped Beijing, with air pollution on Thursday more than 20 times the safety limit set by the World Health Organization (WHO), according to US figures.
City authorities warned the capital’s 20 million inhabitants to avoid the “severe air pollution” if possible, and to wear masks when outside. Children and elderly people were told to remain indoors.
Beijing’s PM2.5 concentration – referring to particles smaller than 2.5 micrometres – reached a high of 546 micrograms per cubic metre on Thursday afternoon. That level is in the highest band of the scale and is considered “hazardous”, according to the US embassy’s air-quality index (AQI) reading.
Measurements from the official Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau showed an AQI reading of 430 points, considered “seriously polluted”.
PM2.5 particles pose serious health hazards because they can embed deep in the lungs.
The daily maximum exposure to PM2.5 particles recommended by the WHO is 25 microgrammes per cubic metre.
“It’s terrible,” said a 28-year-old secretary in Beijing. “On the way to work I hardly dared to breathe.”
In recent weeks, pollution readings of 200 to 300 have been common in the capital.