Capital short of time to meet pollution goal
The capital city is racing against time to hit its clean air target.
Beijing is aiming to have 227 days of blue skies this year.
By the end of September, the city had 175 such days, merely two-thirds of the goal and no more than last year.
To match the target, Beijing would need clear skies in 52 of the remaining 92 days.
"We are now facing great pressure to realize the goal," said Cheng Ying, an official from the Beijing Municipal Environment Protection Bureau.
As it gets colder, most cities in North China will start to supply heating in mid-November by burning huge amounts of coal.
"Smoke from the burning coal is always a headache for the environment at this time of the year," Cheng said.
There are still more than 3,000 coal-burning boilers in operation in the city, according to China Environmental News.
Beijing's air pollution is more complicated than many metropolises in the world.
Smoke from the burning coal, industrial pollution, vehicle emissions and dust clouds are still the leading pollutants, says a report issued by the bureau.
This is despite campaigns advocating the use of clean energy and reducing the use of coal.
Statistics show the capital cut the amount of coal used in boilers by 5 million tons last year but, at the same time, the amount of coal used by industry grew by3 million tons.
Therefore, total annual use of coal was only cut by 2 million tons to 26 million tons last year from 28 million tons in 1998, when Beijing officially launched its programme to cope with air pollution.
Compared with 1998, the number of clean air days increased by 34 per cent from 102 to 223 days.
The bureau has tightened its control over discharges of sulphur dioxide from the burning coal of heating companies.
If discharges exceed the standards of the bureau,the companies could face fines as high as 100,000 yuan (US$12,000).
Besides burning coal, the city is also facing increasing difficulties eliminating other sources of pollution.
Although some large-scale enterprises which discharge vast amount of industrial pollutants have been gradually removed from the city, the pollution, described as being severe, is not likely to see a dramatic change in the short term.
At present, there are about 2.3 million vehicles in Beijing. Daily emissions of tail gas accounts for a large portion of the air pollution.
Meanwhile, more than 6,000 construction sites in the city produce rampant dust clouds every day.
Besides, Beijing is surrounded by hills on three sides making it hard for accumulated pollutants to diffuse.
Harsh weather days, such as days with heavy fog and dust storms, make up almost 30 per cent of the year.
The city, which is taking a series of measures to tackle air pollution, plans to crack down on dust clouds on construction sites, increase the use of clean energy, formulate and set up a schedule to curtail industrial pollutants, and speed up the pace to eliminate old motor vehicles.