China issues 1st air pollution forecast with new system

(AP) Skyscrapers were shrouded in heavy smog and many commuters wore masks in Beijing’s financial district on Friday, as authorities issued a rare alert, issuing public health advisories and taking measures aimed at reducing pollutants.

Yet, the yellow alert – the first since October when Beijing adopted an emergency plan in response to severe air pollution – is at such a low level that its corresponding measures are too weak to effect changes in air quality, highlighting the challenge China faces in cleaning up its foul air.

“Pollution has a lot of impact in our lives. For example, it is not convenient to go out,” said university student Zhou Yin, who was walking in the streets of Beijing wearing a face mask.

The City of Beijing mandates that at least half of the vehicles in the capital be halted when the pollution is expected to be hazardous for the next three days, or with the air quality index, based on the levels of key air pollutants, exceeding 300.

That would trigger the highest level of alert, red.

The air in Beijing deteriorated further on Thursday, and by Friday morning, readings from monitor stations through the city have been above 300 except for one.

The authorities forecast that pollution would linger for another week, but only issued the low-level yellow alert, for less foul air.

With air quality readings available on mobile phones and computers, many technology-savvy Beijing residents are used to planning their activities according to pollution levels.

“Pollution has been more severe in the past two years, so the government would always send some alerts and information with recommendations about what impact it would have to our health,” said company manager Liu Yong’an, who usually checks the quality of the air on his mobile phone, computer or tablet.

“I pay great attention to this in order to take measures to protect my health,” he said.

On Friday, the yellow alert persuaded many Beijing residents to wear masks.

School children, the elderly and other vulnerable groups of people were advised to stay indoors while the use of public transportation was recommended.

(Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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