Wednesday, January 30, 2013

China: Flights Cancelled Due to Off-the-Charts Smog, A Warning to Those with Respiratory Ailments

According to The Associated Press, opaque, off-the-scale smog shrouded eastern China for the second time in about two weeks yesterday (January 29), forcing airlines to cancel flights because of poor visibility and prompting Beijing to temporarily shut factories and curtail fleets of government cars.

Street lamps and the outlines of buildings receded into a white haze as pedestrians donned face masks to guard against the caustic air. The flight cancellations stranded passengers during the first week of the country's peak, six-week period for travel surrounding the Chinese New Year, scheduled to occur on on February 10.

The US Embassy reported an hourly peak level of PM2.5 — tiny particulate matter that can penetrate deep into the lungs — at 526 micrograms per cubic meter, or "beyond index," and more than 20 times higher than the World Health Organization's (WHO) safety levels over a 24-hour period.

More than 100 flights were canceled in the eastern city of Zhengzhou, 33 in Beijing, 20 in Qingdao and 13 in Jinan.

COMMENT: Beijing's city government ordered 103 heavily polluting factories to suspend production and told government departments and state-owned enterprises to reduce their use of cars by a third, Xinhua reported. The measures last until Thursday (January 31).

Beijing's official readings for PM2.5 were lower than the embassy's — 433 micrograms per cubic meter at one point in the afternoon— but even that level is considered "severe" and prompted the city government to advise residents to stay indoors as much as possible. 

As a cautionary tip, our regular readers are urged to consider air pollution when they make travel plans abroad, particularly if they have chronic respiratory issues (i.e. asthma, have allergies, are on daily oxygen or face other breathing issues).

A very useful link to review if you have respiratory issues is the following from the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention's 2012 YELLOW BOOK: