Pollution: Beijing's Levels 'Beyond Hazardous'

Mark Stone, China Correspondent in Beijing

Severe pollution is affecting large areas of northern China for a third consecutive day.

In the capital Beijing, a layer of smog blanketing the city remains at a level considered hazardous.

On Saturday the pollution was 'off the scale' at a figure well beyond those considered dangerous to human health.

According to an unofficial air quality monitor on the roof of the American Embassy in Beijing, the Air Quality Index on Saturday afternoon hit 732. Any figure above 300 is considered "hazardous".

By Sunday morning the level had dropped to 391 which is still well into the hazardous bracket.

It is hard to see more than about 150m on Beijing's streets. The skyscrapers which dominate parts of the city are barely visible.

The pollution is so bad that it is possible to smell the air and even taste it. Residents are being urged to remain indoors but few appear to be listening to the advice.

Beijingers are used to severe pollution but not usually on quite such a level. It is not clear why it should be so bad this weekend.

Yu Jianhua, from the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau said the current weather conditions were preventing the smog from dispersing.

"Beijing has got warmer and wetter. We are facing large quantities of polluting emissions and they are not diffusing very quickly. The air is severely polluted," he said.

Mr Yu urged people to use public transport rather than their own vehicles to reduce emissions.

Even Beijing's subway network is affected though. At a number of station platforms on Saturday the smog was visible, hanging in the air.

Fumes from the ever-increasing number of vehicles on the city's streets contribute, but the factories surrounding the city also cause significant pollution.

Beijing is flanked on two sides by mountains. The air is dry, cold and hangs over the city. If there is no wind, all the factors combine to create the smog.

China's government says it is trying to tackle the problem. It is aware that it does nothing for the country's image.

The Chinese last year asked the American Embassy not to publish the figures from its monitor. The Americans refused, insisting that the information was for the benefit of its personnel.

The Chinese publish their own figures for the same air.

At the same time as the US monitor was recording a figure of 736, the official Chinese figure was 500 - still well beyond the hazardous level.