Pollution hits record levels in Beijing
PM2.5 levels are more than 25 times World Health Organisation standards. These airborne particles cause respiratory problems and cancer. Although failing to tackle industrial pollution, the government cracks down on fireworks and acknowledges the existence of 'cancer villages'.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Fireworks not only lit up Beijing's night sky during the annual Lantern Festival but also increased PM2.5 readings (airborne particles measured by micrograms per cubic metre) far above safe levels. In certain areas, the level reached 561, a reading regarded as "severely polluted".

As a rule, PM2.5 levels of 100 are considered dangerous for people with heart or lung diseases, the elderly and children. For the World Health Organisation, PM2.5 levels should be below 20 micrograms per cubic metre for the air to be safe.

Beijing authorities issued a fireworks ban today in Beijing's downtown until the next Lunar New Year. Yesterday, they had announced a smog alert and called on residents to reduce the smoky celebrations and stay indoors.

Residents do not seem particularly happy by the decision, taking to the internet to complain. One of them blamed "air pollution" from "vehicles and factories", noting that "Cracking down on firework displays is only an environmental protection campaign, nothing more".

In recent years, pollution in Beijing has worsened. In 2008, when the Olympics were held in the Chinese capital, demands were made on Chinese authorities to tackle the problem. However, the need to maintain high growth levels has prevented action to meet international environmental standards.

For ordinary Chinese, the problem is a priority and they are pushing the authorities to act. Steps taken so far have been limited.

Now that new leaders from the 'Fifth Generation' are getting ready to take over under Xi Jinping, things might change

China's Health Ministry has in fact formally acknowledged for the first time what it had hitherto ignored, namely the existence of 'cancer villages', areas with extremely high cancer rates located near highly polluting plants.