Clear The Air News Blog Rotating Header Image

February 11th, 2009:

Beijing’s Air Quality Plunges After Fireworks

Shi Jiangtao in Beijing, SCMP – Updated on Feb 11, 2009

Beijing’s air quality plunged to its worst level since the Olympics yesterday after a night of frenzied fireworks displays marking the end of the Lunar New Year on Monday. The city was blanketed in heavy, choking smog, with visibility significantly reduced and the burning smell of fireworks lingering in the air until noon yesterday.

The air pollution index, which measures major pollutants from noon to noon, hit 307 – considered “very polluted” by national standards and the worst since June.

Although it is no secret that Beijing’s air quality has been deteriorating markedly over recent months since the Olympics, yesterday’s pollution reading surprised even the city’s environmental watchdog.

Du Shaozhong, deputy director of the city’s environmental bureau, said massive fireworks displays were to blame for the heavy pollution.

“We haven’t seen such poor air quality since May 29 last year, when the city was hit by heavy pollution,” he said. “Fireworks to celebrate the Lantern Festival [the 15th day of the Lunar New Year] plus stagnant weather have made things worse.

But he denied that the fire that gutted the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in the new China Central Television headquarters complex had played a big role.

“It certainly affected the air quality across that area, but it is difficult to see if it has had an impact on the air pollution reading for the whole city,” he said.

Mr Du’s office released a statement yesterday citing detailed statistics from various monitoring stations across the city.

It said air quality had deteriorated dramatically when fireworks began after sunset on Monday.

The reading of PM10, measuring the concentration of particles of 10 microns or more, peaked at about 9pm at 810 micrograms per cubic metre.

The pollution figure dropped a little after midnight when the fireworks stopped but remained high because there was little wind.

At least 10 monitoring stations near the city centre recorded figures designated as “heavily polluted”.

According to the watchdog, a rating of less than 100 is generally considered acceptable, while 101 to 300 is unhealthy and polluted, and above 300 is heavily polluted.

The air pollution index for earlier in the day on Monday was 112.

CCTV Fire Reignites Fireworks Ban Bebate

Zhuang Pinghui, SCMP – Updated on Feb 11, 2009

Lunar New Year pyrotechnic displays prompt calls for end to ancient tradition

In the four Lunar New Year holidays since Beijing lifted a ban on fireworks within the Fifth Ring Road, residents have marked the festive season with ever louder, higher and more magnificent pyrotechnic displays. Beijingers seemed for the past two weeks to have shown even more enthusiasm for the fireworks, which they hoped would rid them of the bad luck that stalked the country last year.

But the blaze that was caused by “illegal” fireworks and destroyed a hotel building in the Television Cultural Centre on Monday night renewed a debate on whether the ban should be re-imposed.

Watching flames shooting from the nearly finished building that was to house the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in the China Central Television headquarters complex just metres from her home, resident Wang Juan, 58, sighed: “As a Beijing resident, I really think we should ban fireworks.

“For days, people fired off firecrackers and fireworks until late at night, and it became annoyingly noisy.

“There is always news of people getting injured or houses catching fire, not to mention the polluted air. It’s not worth it.”

She had a prime view of CCTV’s Olympic-style “big footprint and big smile” fireworks before the pyrotechnics show quickly led to an inferno.

Beijing’s fire authorities blamed CCTV, saying it set off dangerous fireworks without approval and continued to fire them as the blaze raged.

The city imposed the ban in urban areas in 1993 and partially lifted it in 2006 for the Lunar New Year.

Ms Wang remembers the fierce fireworks that year.

“Every household fired them like crazy, as if to release all their accumulated desire in one night,” she said.

But in the first five days of the 2006 holiday, 779 people sought treatment for injuries related to fireworks or firecrackers, including 47 who were seriously injured. The next year one person was killed and 663 injured.

The CCTV fire also stirred debate online about whether to reintroduce a complete fireworks ban. More than 1,000 people responded to an online survey supporting a ban. But commentators shrugged off the concern, saying it was more important to honour the 1,300-year-old tradition of scaring off evil spirits with the noise.

Zhang Hui, president of the Tourism Development Research Institute, affiliated with Beijing International Studies University, said: “Igniting fireworks is a tradition and without it the Lunar New Year would lose its flavour.”

Professor Zhang said the losses from the fire should motivate the government to do a better job of monitoring their use.

Renmin University sociologist Zhou Xiaozheng also said that maintaining tradition should outweigh the negatives of fireworks but people should not buy lavish ones.