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Associated Press
A woman wears a mask as she visits Tiananmen Square in Beijing on Sunday as the measurement of air pollution went off the index.

Air pollution reading in Beijing ‘beyond index’

– People refused to venture outdoors and buildings disappeared into Beijing’s murky skyline on Sunday as the air quality in China’s notoriously polluted capital went off the index.

The Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center said on its website that the density of PM2.5 particulates had surpassed 700 micrograms per cubic meter in many parts of the city. The World Health Organization considers a safe daily level to be 25 micrograms per cubic meter.

PM2.5 are tiny particulate matter about one-thirtieth the average width of a human hair. They can penetrate deep into the lungs, so measuring them is considered a more accurate reflection of air quality than other methods.

The Beijing center recommended that children and the elderly stay indoors and that others avoid outdoor activities.

The U.S. Embassy also publishes data for PM2.5 on Twitter and interprets the data according to more stringent standards. In the 24-hour period up to 10 a.m. Sunday, it said 18 of the hourly readings were “beyond index.”

The highest number was 755. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s air quality index goes up to only 500, and the agency advises that anything greater than 300 would trigger a health warning of “emergency conditions,” with the entire population likely affected.

Beijing’s streets were still fairly busy Sunday, and there was the familiar sight of heavy traffic on main thoroughfares.

Weather conditions are a factor in the recent poor air quality, as a lack of wind means pollutants can easily accumulate and fail to dissipate, said Pan Xiao Chuan, a professor at Peking University’s public health department.

“Recent pollution doesn’t mean there is an increase in the discharge of pollutants,” he said.

Several other cities, including Tianjin on the coast east of Beijing and southern China’s Wuhan city, also reported severe pollution over the last several days.

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