February 18, 2015 – The air quality in Beijing is expected to worsen in the next few days, possibly due to fireworks.
The city’s municipal environment watchdog said the weather from today until Friday is expected to be windless, which means air pollutants near the ground will not disperse. Unfortunately, these windless days will likely coincide with heavy use of firecrackers and fireworks as the Lunar New Year falls on Thursday.
Setting off fireworks during the Lunar New Year is an age-old tradition in China, as ancient superstitions hold that the light and sound will scare away evil spirits.
“Just like how the Northern Chinese eat dumplings during festivals, setting off fireworks is a tradition,” said Xue Xichen, a Tianjin resident. “If the authorities are serious about tackling pollution, they should tackle industrial pollution. Setting off fireworks is just a once-a-year event. It is not as bad as industrial pollution.”
However, fireworks and firecrackers have been blamed for worsening air pollution in some Chinese cities in recent years. Nearly 140 cities have introduced bans and 536 cities have issued restrictions on fireworks.
In Beijing for instance, only 942 firecracker retail businesses were approved, more than 100 fewer compared to a year ago. Authorities have also cut the number of days when firecrackers may be sold from 20 to 11.
Some Beijing retailers have said that firecracker orders are down 20 per cent this year as a result of these measures and also due to pollution concerns.
On Lunar New Year’s Eve in 2013, Beijing saw a rapid increase of PM2.5, airborne particles smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter that can penetrate the lungs and harm health. Authorities said that the concentration grew from 150 micrograms per cubic meter at midnight to 347 micrograms per cubic meter in one hour because of fireworks.