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Beijing's Smog Is So Bad They're Cancelling Flights

Downtown Beijing in the clouds of its latest air pollution emergency.
Lintao Zhang
Downtown Beijing in the clouds of its latest air pollution emergency.

The pollution in China's capital has intensified again, and some residents are turning to gas masks to breathe. The U.S. Embassy in Beijing is tracking the current air quality, and it's most recent reading finds that even late at night, the air is hazardous: "Everyone should avoid all physical activity outdoors; people with heart or lung disease, older adults and children should remain indoors and keep activity levels low."

Several dozen flights out of Beijing Capital International Airport were cancelled today, and Businessweek reports smog is to blame. CNN says in some parts of the city, visibility is less than 200 feet.

A couple of weeks ago, Beijing experienced another bad bout of dirty air. As NPR's Louisa Lim told NPR Newscasts, "Beijing's skies are shrouded in a blanket of spectral grey smog, which blocks visibility and makes the eyes sting." Just like today, the air quality level was off the charts - literally, because the U.S. embassy's worst rating goes to 500 but the readings were far past the index.

Today, Beijing authorities are ordering more than 100 polluting factories to shut down, and government agencies have to cut their automobile use by a third, says the Associated Press. City officials warn there's little wind, so the smog won't break up right away.

Earlier, Mark posted dramatic photographs of the pollution's pervasiveness. Click here to slide over before-and-after pictures taken of Beijing from space.

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Korva Coleman is a newscaster for NPR.

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