Entries in Air Pollution (2)


China's Filthy Air Prompts Mask Rush, Sale of Fresh Air in Cans

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(BEIJING) -- For the fourth time this year, a murky haze has descended over north China, leaving residents of Beijing choking on toxic smog.  China's air hasn't been this bad since 1954, according to the state-run People's Daily newspaper.

In a remarkable record of dirty air, 24 out of January's first 29 days this year had air classified as hazardous.  And the skies have still not cleared.

The Air Quality Index from the U.S. embassy, designed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, shows that the concentration of fine particulate matter, known as PM 2.5, has been hovering at the top of the scale since last Friday.  It's in a range described as "hazardous" and calls for protective measures to be taken.

Visibility is reduced to 100 yards in downtown Beijing.  Travel has been disrupted with more than 100 flights cancelled at a time when millions start the journey home for Chinese New Year.

The air is so bad that wealthy Chinese entrepreneur, Chen Guangbiao, is selling fresh air in soft drinks cans, similar to bottled drinking water.  Each can is sold for 5RMB or about 80 cents. 

Chen is well known for his charitable donations and publicity stunts.  He says he wants to stimulate awareness of environmental protection among government officials and citizens by selling the canned fresh air.

"If we don't pay attention to environmental protection, in 10 years every one of us will be wearing gas masks and carrying oxygen tanks on the streets," Cheng told ABC News.  "By that time, my canned fresh air will be a necessity for household."

The current blanket of smog has been blamed for a sharp rise in the number of respiratory illnesses, particularly among children and the elderly.  A pediatric hospital in downtown Beijing has treated a record 9,000 children this month.  They are mostly flu, pneumonia, bronchitis and asthma patients, according to Xinhua, the state news agency.

Masks have become the new fashion on Beijing's streets.  The number of online searches for the word "mask" has jumped by 5,304.3 percent compared to last month, according to figures released by Taobao, the biggest online shopping site in China.  There are more than 100,000 masks being sold every day this month in Beijing alone.

Ordinary medical masks do not provide enough protection.  Some Beijing citizens have taken more serious measures by wearing gas masks.  In one Beijing city office, as many as 20 workers wore the protective headgear at their desks, according to AFP.

Wednesday by mid-morning, a text from the government was sent to millions of cellphones warning residents to stay indoors. 

Beijing environmental authorities temporarily shut down 103 high-emission factories on Tuesday and ordered 30 percent of government cars off the roads. 

Premier Wen Jiabao has spoken out publicly, calling for reduced emissions and increased environmental awareness.  The measures will continue until Thursday, when weather forecasts predict strong wind will sweep into Beijing and blow away the smog.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Rome Curtails Traffic to Fight Air Pollution

Jean-Pierre Lescourret/Getty Images(ROME) -- The air quality was so bad in Rome on Thursday that officials banned many of the exhaust spewing cars and motorcycles from the city for the next two days.

Only cars with even numbered license plates were allowed into the city along with cars, motorcycles and scooters that have strict anti-pollution devices on them, as well as electric and hybrid cars.

The exemptions include anyone driving to a wedding or a funeral.

On Friday, only vehicles with license plates ending in odd numbers will not be allowed to circulate. Anyone found driving with the "wrong" plate number is liable to a fine of 150 Euros (about $200).

Rome has been battling air pollution all year. Smog levels exceeded limits set by European laws some 56 times this year -- including a recent six-day stretch.

Rome was one of 46 Italian cities which exceeded the safety limits for over 35 days this year. Thirty of these cities are in the Po valley in the north of Italy, where the situation gets so bad so frequently that authorities have no other remedy but to curtail traffic for a day.

Italians know that the high smog levels this year are not helped by the unseasonably warm fall weather. Rome's Mayor Gianni Alemanno, who has always been critical of the effectiveness of alternate license ban on traffic, told reporters Thursday that the warm weather was to blame for forcing the city to take this action. He said he hoped that this was just a temporary measure and that a more long-term plan to reduce traffic and pollutants could be introduced shortly.

Most Romans blame a poor public transport system and limited metro system on why they are forced to use their private vehicles. New "green-transport" projects continue to be drawn up for more electric buses and car and bike sharing, but the city is already short of funds, and new austerity measures expected to be announced next week are unlikely to help moves to improve environment-friendly systems.

With this winter's weather expected to remain balmy, what may finally force Italians to leave their beloved cars and scooters at home will be further government austerity measures which are expected to seriously curb personal spending.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio