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Pollution score: Beijing 993, New York 19

china smog
Getty Images / Daniel Berehulak
Like night and day
By Steve LeVine
BeijingPublished Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Beijing authorities are keeping children off the street, closing factories and attempting to curb traffic. The Chinese media are lashing out at unprecedented smog choking the city and the entire eastern part of the country. The pollution has been so thick that Chinese pollution meters can no longer measure that high.

STR / AFP / Getty Images
A row of intravenous drips for children receiving flu treatment in Beijing. Smog could aggravate flu symptoms according to experts.

Here is the money statistic: On Jan. 12, Beijing’s pollution metric soared far past extremely dangerous levels to 993. In New York City on the same day, the figure was 19. The number measures the concentration, in micrograms per cubic meter, of small, dangerous pieces of particulate matter (those less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter) that can seriously damage lungs.

Getty Images / PHOTO / Ed Jones
Face masks are a common sight in smog-filled Beijing

With the air so bad, investors see profit: The share prices of Chinese makers of air purifiers have surged.

Here are some indicators of how bad things are:

A skyscraper shot in Beijing.

Weekend readings from the @BeijingAir Twitter feed from the US Embassy’s air monitoring station.

Charts and photos at China Air Daily.

EPA / Mayi Wong
A big screen flashes commercials on the exterior of an office building in Xi’an, in northwest China

The new Chinese leadership has said it will concentrate on cleaning up the air, and the official People’s Daily today called for relief from a ”suffocating siege of pollution.” Smog is not only only an environmental crisis, but already a political problem: Over the last two years, there has been a rash of public protests over air and water pollution, posing the threat of public disorder as the expectations of ordinary Chinese rise with the country’s new wealth. Forecasts are for Chinese energy use to rise substantially over the coming decade and a half, and unless the pollution can be brought under control, the country could face a doubling or tripling of the already-critical levels of smog.

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