A China smog emergency has closed an entire city. Harbin is experiencing dense smog at dangerous levels, with officials reporting visibility reduced to less than 35 feet in some areas. Levels of harmful particulates have reached 1000 and levels above 300 are considered dangerous to citizens.
Around 11 million people are effected by the shutdown as authorities closed schools, businesses, airports, public transportation, and some highways. Officials blame the emergency on colder weather. When the city activated heating for the winter, the pollution increased.
As reported by Reuters, the increased levels are expected to last 24 hours. Although China's government has committed to addressing the pollution, they have made little progress.
A spokesman for the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Environmental Protection said officials have agreed upon a four-year plan to reduce pollution. However, the improvements will cost more than $800 billion.
China smog levels usually fluctuate throughout the year, depending on industrial emissions and the number of residents driving cars. Unfortunately, levels run much higher during winter months.
As reported by Time, the winter levels are blamed on widespread use of coal for heat. Harbin's winter promises to be difficult, as levels have reached dangerous numbers on the first day the heating system was used.
Beijing has experienced similar issues. Last winter, Beijing was forced to shut down much of the city's activity when levels exceeded 900. The city eventually enacted a color-coded system to alert residents and businesses.
When pollution approaches dangerous levels, Beijing officials warn industrial plants to halt production. Residents are asked to refrain from driving, using barbeque grills, and gas-powered tools.
In many cities, residents have resorted to covering their faces with masks, purchasing air purifiers, and staying inside their homes to avoid the China smog. Although the masks are useful, air purifiers are often quite expensive. Many residents simply cannot afford to breathe clean air.
Some residents have criticized China's government for promoting inequality. Government officials have the means to outfit their homes and businesses with air purification systems, while most citizens cannot afford the luxury.
This week's high levels of pollution are not unique to Harbin. Other northeastern cities, including Tangshan and Changchun, are also reporting excessively high levels.
Officials in Harbin report the shutdown has caused some chaos as travelers are stranded at the airport and others have no means to commute in or out of the city.
The China smog has caused numerous problems for the city's 11 million residents. Unfortunately, the inconvenience is the least of their worries. The ongoing threat to their heath remains the primary concern.
[Image via Wikimedia]