Fewer cars for cleaner air
By Zheng Xin (China Daily)
Beijing decides to slash the number of vehicles on heavy pollution days
Some 80 percent of public vehicles and half of private cars will be banned from Beijing's roads on days of continuous and serious air pollution, the city government said on Thursday.
Cars and vans will be limited according to odd and even license numbers during periods of serious air pollution expected to linger for three or more days, according to the city's information office.
The authority said cars and vans are largely responsible for the large amounts of fine particulate matter polluting the air in central Beijing.
During a news conference on Thursday, Fang Li, spokesman of the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau, said: "The bureau will inform the public of the traffic control measures more than 12 hours in advance.
"However, as forecasting environmental and air quality is more complex than meteorological predictions, the bureau should be more cautious when it comes to the information release," he said.
He said that the air quality forecast, once released, will have an big impact on the public.
Yu Jianhua, director of the air quality department at the bureau, said the bureau will further refine and improve the mechanism for forecasts and warnings.
Ongoing efforts to improve the capital's air quality include reducing coal consumption, improving the quality of fuels and emissions, suspending industrial enterprises that pollute heavily and cracking down on illegal outdoor barbecues. However, despite these measures, Beijing is still the victim of high levels of airborne pollution, with occasional periods of heavy smog.
The new plan to limit vehicle numbers, which was approved by the standing committee of the Beijing Municipal People's Congress on Wednesday, will come into force whenever the air quality index is predicted to be above 300 for the three following days.
In addition to limits based on license numbers, vehicles transporting construction materials will be banned from the roads during times of heavy pollution, and public transportation, including subway trains and buses, will extend their service hours by 30 minutes to cater to additional commuter needs.
The government also aims to cut the number of official vehicles in use at such times by another 30 percent.
The government has also announced plans to use more clean-energy vehicles for passenger transportation in downtown areas and the suburbs.
Many city residents have welcomed the new moves.
"It's worthwhile using public transportation for one day for some fresh air," said Zhang Dong, a 49-year-old resident of the city's Dongcheng district.
According to the city's environment bureau, construction sites and some industrial plants that cause pollution will also be required to halt operation on days of heavy pollution. Fireworks and outdoor barbecues will be suspended.
Industry is responsible for about 15 percent of the city's air pollution, said Wang Chunlin, director of the bureau's pollution prevention department.
The government is cracking down on existing industrial polluters, with more than 1,200 companies due to be removed from the capital by 2016, bringing an expected overall reduction in coal consumption of 2 million tons.
The capital is also tightening up on operating licenses for projects that fail energy conservation standards and environmental assessments. As of the end of September, the capital had weeded out 184 polluting enterprises as part of its clean-air action plan.
By the end of 2017, authorities aim to have reduced cement production to 4 million tons per year, while the oil refining industry is to be cut to below 10 million tons, the bureau said.
Meanwhile, classes in middle schools and kindergartens will be suspended at times of heavy and prolonged pollution to protect students from damage to their respiratory systems. The government is also warning elderly residents, especially those with breathing and heart conditions, to avoid outdoor activities when pollution is high and to wear face masks if they go outside.
Beijing's announcement on traffic controls on Thursday came on the same day that the World Health Organization released data on the health risks associated with air pollution.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer cited data indicating that in 2010, 223,000 deaths from lung cancer worldwide resulted from air pollution, and said there was also convincing evidence it increases the risk of bladder cancer.
Air pollution, mostly caused by transportation, power generation, industrial or agricultural emissions and residential heating and cooking, is already known to raise risks for a wide range of illnesses.
Research suggests that in recent years, exposure levels have risen significantly in some parts of the world, particularly countries with large populations going through rapid industrialization such as China.
Reuters contributed to this story.
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