01/15/2013, 00.00
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Ai Weiwei: a gas mask against Beijing’s pollution

Hospitals crowded with a growing number of patients with respiratory problems. Factories, chemical industries and construction sites closed. Shares of companies that produce gas masks up by 10%. Pollution, cause of social unrest.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - The artist and dissident Ai Weiwei has spoken out about the grave situation of pollution in the capital, where he lives, in a portrait of him wearing a gas mask which he posted on Twitter (see photo).

For several days, Beijing has been under a blanket of smog, which at peak pollution times - like two days ago - superseded the health safety limit imposed by the World Health Organization by at least 40 times.

Doctors and nurses of the largest hospitals say that in this period the number of patients admitted to hospital with breathing problems has increased.

In an effort to improve air quality in what is called the worst pollution in recent years, the authorities have shut down or reduced production in a hundred and chemical manufacturing industries, as well as 50 construction sites. Today the official level air quality level reads A161, which means "average pollution", the U.S. embassy data is 153, which means "not healthy."

Air quality is a problem not only in Beijing, but in many parts of China, where wild industrial development, without any concern for the environment, has done almost irreparable damage. The Air Quality Index in Shijiazhuang (Hebei) is more than 400 and Jinan (Shandong) it has reached 500; Zhengzhou (Henan) is 405, a Xian (Shaanxi) is 342.

The only positive outcome in the situation is the increase in sales of gas masks which has seen a 10% jump in the value of the shares on the stock exchange of companies such as Shanghai or Fujian Dragon Longking, famous for producing masks and other anti-pollution tools.

According to Dai Qing, a famous journalist, environmental pollution has become a major source of social unrest in China. In recent months there have been demonstrations in Ningbo (Zhejiang) against a pollutant petrochemical complex; in Xinzhi (Guangdong), hundreds of families have accused the authorities of allowing a power plant to cause lead poisoning in their children.


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