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Super smog hits north China city; flights canceled

By Louise Watt

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 08:03 p.m. HST, Oct 21, 2013

BEIJING >> Visibility shrank to less than half a football field and small-particle pollution soared to a record 40 times higher than an international safety standard in one northern Chinese city as the region entered its high-smog season.

The manager for U.S. jazz singer Patti Austin, meanwhile, said the singer had canceled a concert in Beijing because of an asthma attack likely linked to pollution.

Winter typically brings the worst air pollution to northern China because of a combination of weather conditions and an increase in the burning of coal for homes and municipal heating systems, which usually starts on a specific date. For the large northern city of Harbin, the city's heating systems kicked in on Sunday, and on Monday visibility there was less than 50 meters (yards), according to state media.

"I couldn't see anything outside the window of my apartment, and I thought it was snowing," Wu Kai, 33, a housewife and mother of a baby boy, said in a telephone interview from Harbin. "Then I realized it wasn't snow. I have not seen the sun for a long time."

She said her husband went to work in a mask, that he could barely see a few meters (yards) ahead of him and that his usual bus had stopped running.

"It's scary, too dangerous. How could people drive or walk on such a day?"

The density of fine particulate matter, PM2.5, used as an indicator of air quality was well above 600 micrograms per cubic meter -- including several readings of exactly 1,000 -- for several monitoring stations in Harbin, according to figures posted on the website of China's environmental protection agency. They were the first known readings of 1,000 since China began releasing figures on PM2.5 in January 2012, and it was not immediately clear if the devices used for monitoring could give readings higher than that.

A safe level under WHO guidelines is 25 micrograms per cubic meter.

Primary and middle schools and some highways were closed, said authorities in the city, which is in China's northernmost province bordering Russia. At least 40 flights to destinations in southern China and Beijing among others were canceled or postponed at Harbin's Taiping International Airport on Monday morning.

Austin's management team said the 63-year-old singer had been treated in a hospital Friday morning for an asthma attack in combination with a respiratory infection. She returned to her hotel later Friday to rest, but was unable to perform at her Beijing concert scheduled for Friday evening. Her Saturday night concert in Shanghai went ahead.

Her manager, Barry Orms, said Monday that Austin, as an asthma sufferer, would have been "affected by the amount of pollution." He said that it wasn't their goal to place blame, and that "Patti has expressed our belief that the Chinese government can be a leader in this very important issue."

On the morning ahead of her concert Friday, Beijing's air was visibly polluted, with the city's environmental monitoring center warning children, the elderly and those with respiratory illnesses to reduce outdoor activity.

China's major cities have some of the world's worst smog. The government was long indifferent to the environment as it pursued economic development, but has begun launching some anti-pollution initiatives after mounting public frustration.

Last month, China's Cabinet released an action plan that aims to make a small reduction in the country's heavy reliance on coal to below 65 percent of total energy usage by 2017. According to Chinese government statistics, coal consumption accounted for 68.4 percent of total energy use in 2011.

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atilter wrote:
the curse of unhindered technology pursuits trying to catch up with past giants (u.s., g.b., ussr,) has huge costs if not considered in the planning...do they care? yes - but too late!!!
on October 21,2013 | 06:00PM
eoe wrote:
This is what free enterprise and freedom look like. Defund the EPA!
on October 21,2013 | 06:22PM
mikethenovice wrote:
Fund your medical bill when you get sick.
on October 22,2013 | 05:02AM
inHilo wrote:
Freedom looks like a super smog where people can't breathe? Hmmm, nice. Fund the EPA!
on October 22,2013 | 05:56AM
mikethenovice wrote:
Zero emission electric vehicles such as the Tesla should help in improving the air quality in China.
on October 21,2013 | 06:23PM
OPGLAW wrote:
For such smart people they are really stupid when it comes to protecting their environment...
on October 21,2013 | 06:53PM
mikethenovice wrote:
Smart GOP planned this.
on October 22,2013 | 05:03AM
HD36 wrote:
The result of owning the word's manufacturing hub.
on October 21,2013 | 07:29PM
HLOEWEN wrote:
This comment has been deleted.
on October 21,2013 | 11:45PM
mikethenovice wrote:
The Democrats will not allow the end of the world to occur.
on October 22,2013 | 05:04AM
mikethenovice wrote:
The Republicans love the fact that profit margins can be higher when no measures are made to protect the air quality. That's why they enjoy the made in China theme.
on October 22,2013 | 05:02AM
krusha wrote:
By the time they want to do anything, it's too late. Reminds me of the big cities in the US before the EPA stepped in.
on October 22,2013 | 06:47AM
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