If you've heard any news from Beijing recently, it's likely smog related news. The smog has actually gone off the charts and according to one resident, it looks a lot like living in Silent Hill.
The Beijing air quality has gone to downright biohazardous levels over the weekend. The air quality is always bad in the city, much due to the tall and closely placed buildings which prevent pollution from flowing out of the city and dispersing. However, over the weekend, cold temperatures led to the pollution being trapped more than usual, and as if that wasn't enough, increased traffic added more pollution to the mix. The end result could pretty well be labeled as an environmental disaster.
NASA imagery of Beijing
Air pollution is usually measured in AQI (Air Quality Index), and is defined by a number between 0 and 500. Low pollution falls somewhere between 0 and 25 on the scale, and once you get over 100, it may begin to have chronic health implications. Once the pollution reaches an AQI of 500, it will severely aggravate those with existing health conditions, and even healthy people will experience symptoms. However, the air in Beijing is way worse than a 500: Over the weekend, the AQI reached 700, a ridiculously high amount.
The Chinese government has taken steps to reduce the smog, including forcing 54 manufacturers to reduce their pollution by 30%. One factory operated by Beijing Hyundai Motor Company shut down completely. Hopefully, this will help in the short run, and the smog is down to the 300-400 range now, but this problem is going to take a lot more effort to solve permanently.
Photo of Beijing in 2005. The left image is after two days of rain. The right image is the build up of smoke on a sunny day.
In the meantime, the population is stuck with it, and it's not very pleasant. Kotaku's Eric Jou described that "The first thing you notice is your eyes burning, then a slight sulfur-y taste in your mouth even though your mouth isn't open." One citizen described the city as living in Silent Hill, whilst Chris Pfeiffer of Kabam thought the thick smog-wall felt like the short draw distance of a GTA game. He also compared it to walking through soup: "Dude, it's soup outside! Like a beach was sent through a fan, its microdermabrasion for FREE!"