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China's Dirty Air Just Hit 'Doomsday' Levels
A thick smog engulfed the Chinese city of Shenyang on Sunday and Monday, sending air pollution levels 50 times above what's deemed safe by the World Health Organization (WHO) and marking the highest pollution on record since the country began monitoring air quality in 2013, according to the Associated Press.
The smog grounded flights, closed highways, and prompted officials to tell residents to stay indoors. Visibility in the northeastern industrial city of 5 million was just a few dozen feet, according to the New York Times.
The smog is particularly dangerous because of its high concentration of particulates measuring less than 2.5 microns (PM2.5) in diameter, which can be inhaled deeply into the lungs and absorbed into the bloodstream. PM2.5 pollution can contribute to a host of health problems, such as heart disease, stroke, emphysema, and lung cancer.
A report by Berkeley Earth, a research organization focusing on climate change and emissions, estimatedthat air pollution in China contributes to the deaths of an estimated 1.6 million people every year.
While the WHO recommends a safe level of PM2.5 to be no more than 25 micrograms per cubic meter over 24 hours, levels in the city of Shenyang had reached up to 1,400 micrograms on Sunday, according to China's official news agency Xinhua.
"As far as we are aware from the data we have been observing over the past few years, this is the highest ever PM2.5 level recording" in the country, Greenpeace campaigner Dong Liansai told AFP.
Last month, the organization said 80 percent of Chinese cities exceeded the national standard on PM2.5 — 35 micrograms per cubic meter — while levels in 367 Chinese cities were more than four times more stringent WHO guidelines.
As popular discontent continues to grow, the problem of air pollution is becoming a thorn in the side of the ruling Communist party, which is slowly moving to make amends. In August, China's upper legislative body passed a law that will restrict several sources of smog and make information about environmental conditions more readily available to the public.