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Winter Coal Burning Leads to Worst Smog on Record in China

November 11, 2015
Environmental Protection

smog-chinaAir pollution levels in China’s Liaoning province soared to unprecedented levels over the weekend as residents began burning coal to heat their homes at the start of the winter period.

In the province capital Shenyang, PM 2.5 readings reached 1,400 micrograms per cubic metre, over 50 times the level considered safe by the World Health Organisation, prompting local officials to urge residents to avoid outdoor activities and to consider wearing protective masks.

The smog was the worst since China began keeping air quality records in 2013, with visibility in some places reduced to less than 100m. Shenyang, which is a major industrial centre, had been attempting to address the problem of poor air quality by relocating some heavily polluting factories and switching to natural gas instead of coal for domestic heating.

Pollution incidents are becoming increasingly common in China’s largely industrial north-east region. A recent study published in the journal PLOS one found that one in six premature deaths in the country can be attributed to poor air quality, which kills approximately 1.6 million people every year. China’s environmental ministry announced earlier this year that only eight of the country’s 74 largest cities passed the government’s basic air quality standards in 2014. China is estimated to have used 4.3 billion tonnes of coal in 2013 according to official statistics.