China placed Beijing on a mandatory pollution red alert, closing schools and minimizing construction due to extreme smog affecting the air quality in the heavily-populated capital.
BBC News reports the red alert was enacted for the first time ever late Monday and will continue until mid-day Thursday. Due to ongoing construction, burning of coal for industries, and heating paired with high humidity and low winds, the smog has increased to excessive levels.
Normal safe readings for the Air Quality Index (AQI) recommended by The World Health Organization are 25 micrograms per cubic meter. At 7 p.m. local time on Tuesday (23:00 GMT on Monday), air alerts were 291 micrograms per cubic meter. The red alert is enacted when air pollution scales rest between 300 to 500 micrograms per cubic meter for 72 hours.
Activists claim pollution levels hit 1,400 micrograms per cubic meter in Shenyang in November, an unprecedented high for China.
A cold front on Thursday predicted by forecasters is expected to clear the smog. Residents are concerned that the polluted air could affect their health, as well as that of the children in the city.
China has joined the global climate change talks in Paris to discuss fighting carbon emissions, but parents are worried it might be too late. According to the LA Times, some children are feeling the effects faster than others.
Outside of the Beijing Children’s Hospital in the west of Beijing, Zhang Jiaying, 34, was holding her 5-year-old son’s hand and waiting for their appointment in the respiratory department. Her son, she said, had been coughing for five days straight. He was wearing a children’s mask, his face turning red as he tried to suppress his fits.
“I feel helpless,” said Zhang, a math teacher. “Maybe my son’s sickness isn’t directly caused by the smog. But as a parent, I cannot help wondering what if my kid could grow up in a much cleaner environment? What if he had the choice of breathing cleaner air? Would he still fall sick so easily? Would he still cough nonstop?
“Kids these days fall sick much more easily than we did when we were kids, yet we were not as wealthy as them, and we certainly didn’t enjoy as much convenience,” she added. “But health is the most important for children, right? Without health, the convenience and facilities are just nothing.”
Greenpeace thanked officials for enacting the alert, but also fear their efforts aren’t doing enough to aid Beijing’s residents.