Beijing sought to tame its infamous smog—caused by a mixture of atmospheric pollutants, including car exhaust and factory emissions—Tuesday by preparing emergency measures, such as traffic limits and factory shutdowns, to kick in when air-pollution levels are high.
The city government said Tuesday that the strictest emergency measures would take effect when the pollution index for fine particulate matter was forecast to exceed 300 micrograms per cubic meter for three days running.
"When the red warning signal, which is the top level, is issued, we will conduct a system of vehicle permissions, based on odd and even numbers (of license plates)," said Fang Li, Beijing Environment Bureau spokesman.
Private vehicles will be allowed to operate on alternating days depending on the last number of their license plates.
The city government also said that factory emissions will be cut by 30 percent through suspending or limiting production and construction sites must halt excavation and demolition work.
Classes will be suspended, a measure likely to cause inconvenience in a city where most parents work.
The emergency measures apply only to industries and individuals in Beijing, despite the fact that as much as 60 percent of the city's air pollution wafts in from neighboring provinces, such as Hebei to the south.
A sprawling city of more than 20 million people, Beijing saw air-pollution levels spike this year despite the imposition of more than 100 control measures that are enforced with varying strictness.
In north China, meanwhile, visibility shrank to less than half a football field (164 feet) and small-particle pollution soared to a record 40 times higher than an international safety standard as the region entered its high-smog season.
In Shenyang, people on the street complained of feeling out of breath. One woman said her daughter didn't want her to be outside on the streets.
"The smog does harm to health, such as heart or respiratory diseases," one local resident said. "My daughter doesn't want me to go outside because of the smog."
Several monitoring stations in Harbin, north of Shenyang, indicated that air quality was well above 600 micrograms per cubic meter, according to figures posted on the website of China's environmental protection agency.
There were several readings of 1,000 micrograms per cubic meter.
A safe level under World Health Organization guidelines is 25 micrograms per cubic meter.
They were the first known readings of 1,000 since China began releasing Air Quality Index figures in January 2012. It was not immediately clear if the devices used for monitoring could give readings higher than that.
The Associated Press