Smog shuts down Chinese city of 11 million

A city in China more populous than New York City or London ground to a complete halt Monday due to especially thick pollution.

The city of Harbin in northeastern China shut down schools, roads and airports after smog made it impossible to see more than about 30 feet. Even at midday, pollution had entirely blotted out the sun from the sky. (Via BBC)

Pollution in the area is always bad, but local authorities blamed this especially thick smog on the first day of cold weather that caused residents across Harbin to flip on their heaters for the first time this season. (Via Euronews)

Though most in the West might never have heard of it, Harbin is a city of 11 million people. And by the numbers, the pollution they saw today was dangerous on a historic level.

The city government said its air quality index rating reached 500 — the worst possible rating — with some areas getting pollution readings that were off the scale. Now, anything above 300 is considered hazardous by the EPA. And anything below 50 is good. (Via The New York Times)

New York hit just 41 on that scale Monday. Last winter, Beijing saw similarly dangerous levels of pollution that kept many children out of school for weeks and made face masks a regular sight on the street. (Via Sky News)

China's government has announced some steps to combat all this pollution — though it will take five years and more than $800 billion, with $167 billion of that going to Beijing alone. (Via TIME)

All this is the result of massive industrial growth with few restrictions over the last couple decades. In January, Beijing announced it would for the first time restrict its number of new factories to help curb pollution.

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