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Smog descends upon Beijing as pollution reaches dangerously high levels

A gray smog has descended over the Chinese capital as the level of toxic small particles in the air reached 20 times recommended levels. The recurring problem tends to be at its worst during the winter months.

The Chinese authorities measured the density of particles of PM2.5 pollution in the air in parts of Beijing on Thursday at between 350 and 500 micrograms per cubic meter.

Measurements conducted at a monitoring post at the US embassy in Beijing found a peak of 671 micrograms per cubic meter. That is around 26 times the level considered safe by the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO regards 25 micrograms of toxic small particles as the maximim safe level for someone to be exposed to over a period of 24 hours.

Chinese cities often experience high pollution levels, which are generally blamed on the use of coal in both power stations and industry. The amount of coal burned increases during the winter and stagnant weather patterns help to create periods of heavy smog that can last for several days at a time. The levels of toxic particles measured on Thursday were the highest since January 2013.

Pledge to reduce particle levels

The ruling

Communist Party has tightened regulations and pledged to put more money into combating pollution.

China's State Council pledged last year to bring down the "concentrations of fine particles" in Beijing by 25 percent of 2012 levels by 2017.

It said it was also aiming for reductions of between 10 and 20 percent for other major Chinese cities, including Shanghai and Guangzhou over the same timeframe.

pfd/hc (AFP, AP)

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