Pollution in northern China worsens as the heating gets turned on

World Today

Massive haze descended across northern China this week when the area’s central heating was turned on.

Much of China’s domestic heating is centrally controlled and was turned on this week in what is known as the annual winter heating season. An official from the Ministry of Environmental Protection said that the combination of burning coal and windless weather has given rise to the health-threatening air.

The haze shrouding the vast area of northern China is expected to drag on for three days and will only slightly lift with moderate cold air creeping in on Nov. 13, according to forecasts from China Meteorological Administration.

The situation could worsen this weekend in some areas, including Beijing, until a stronger front is expected to hit the region next Monday which should help clear the pollution.

The haze comprises mainly of “particulate matter 2.5 (PM 2.5)”, breathable fine particles with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less that suspend in the air.

China remains heavily dependent on burning coal to heat homes, which is a leading cause for carbon emissions and pumping harmful substances into the air. The concentration rate of PM 2.5 across major areas is 20 percent higher during the heating season than normal times, data from the Ministry shows.

According to Chinese law, the annual central heating season begins when inside temperatures dip below 16 degrees Celsius (60 degrees Fahrenheit) across the area north of the Qinling Mountains-Huaihe River Line, a geographical mark separating the north and south of the country. Populations south of the line do not have a central heating service due to relatively higher temperature in winter time.

Local authorities in Liaoning have come under increased pressure for being unresponsive in issuing warnings when pollution levels reached above 1000 ug/ m³. The air is officially “acutely polluted” when an area’s reading is higher than 250ug/ m³.