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Harbin: China’s Silent Hill

Coal power plants are causing severe pollution in Harbin

10·24·2013

You probably didn’t hear it here first but air pollution in China is bad, really bad. While Beijing is enjoying relatively low levels of air pollution (and relatively is very much the operative word here), Harbin, in north-east China is suffering from almost unimaginably bad air quality, with the city beginning to resemble something out of the computer game, Silent Hill. Several important services have had to be suspended due to the poor air quality.

Air pollution is not a new phenomenon in China. However, what happened to Harbin is unbelievable, even for the most polluted country in the world. The city has long faced one of the foes of modern China: air pollution. The entire north-east has been paralyzed by the sudden outbreak of enormous levels of air pollution in the region. Harbin, a city with population of approximately 11 million, suffered the most. According to the Guardian, the PM 2.5 index was reported to be 40 times higher than recommended levels. While the acceptable level of PM 2.5,  according to the World Health Organization, is about 20, anything above above 300 is considered dangerous; on Monday Harbin was at about 1,000 in some parts of the city.

The sudden, exponential rise of the poor air conditions has led to massive media speculation and comment. Shocking videos and photos have raised public awareness of those both outside and inside the country. National Geographic reported extremely low levels of visibility – not more than 20 meters in some parts of the city. As a result, there were numerous car accidents, which even resulted in the ease of traffic rules and punishments. At the same time the local airport, as well as some schools were shut down.

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What are the reasons for such a sudden breakthrough of pollution? According to the Guardian, authorities emphasis on the use of coal power plants is causing significant problems, and usage is only set to increase over the forthcoming winter. Other, less significant causes mentioned were:

low winds and the burning of crop stubble as well as vehicle emissions. Others said a sudden temperature change and humidity might have contributed.”

While there are many explanations, coal plants remain the most significant reason for the pollution in the country, and the recent case of Harbin is another reminder of the  country’s firm need to focus on its environmental problems.

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Image courtesy by english.sina.com, liberation.fr, world.time.com, tv5.org, washingtonpost.com, smh.com.au

The following videos represent the recent spate of pollution in Harbin:

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