BEIJING, Jan. 15 (UPI) -- China, hit by dangerous levels of air pollution in Beijing and other cities for days, will vigorously curb vehicle exhaust emissions, officials said.
As public anger against the pollution mounted and state media responded strongly in support, Tao Detian, spokesman for the Ministry of Environmental Protection, said effective measures will be taken to limit the total amount of nitrogen oxide emitted by vehicles and intensify supervision over the production, use and elimination of motor vehicles, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
The agency said "hazardous air pollution has shrouded parts of the country for several straight days."
Tao said his ministry will step up efforts for urban public transport development and promote the use of clean energy to cut vehicle exhaust.
Xinhua said China for the fourth straight year remained the world's largest producer and market for automobiles, with auto sales in 2012 hitting 19.31 million units and production soaring to 19.27 million vehicles.
The report said carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and other pollutants emitted by motor vehicles are among the major contributors to the air pollution problems like smog and acid rain occurring frequently in some Chinese cities.
The current problem has been compounded by heavy fog enveloping large sections of east and central China, causing highway closures and flight delays in several provinces.
The report noted Beijing's air has been heavily polluted. Readings for airborne particles with a diameter of 2.5 microns or less, or small enough to deeply penetrate the lungs, were as high as 993 micrograms per cubic meter of air last Saturday. The World Health Organization has mandated the safe daily level is 25 micrograms per cubic meter.
Beijing has a permanent population of around 20 million and some 5.2 million vehicles, with the number of private cars on the rise, Xinhua said.
China Daily Tuesday quoted experts in Beijing as saying the country's economy and tourism could be damaged because of the pollution in several cities and the emergency measures taken to clear the air.
On Monday, Beijing authorities ordered 58 factories with high emissions to suspend operations and also halt work at construction sites causing dust. Similar steps have been taken in Shijiazhuang in neighboring Hebei province, where work was ordered stopped at more than 700 construction sites.
Young children and the elderly in affected cities have been advised to stay indoors. In Beijing, schools were ordered to cancel physical education classes until air quality improved.
Up to 30 percent of government vehicles have also been banned from the capital's roads on heavily polluted days.
Experts said coal emissions also have been largely blamed for the pollution, made worse by a low-pressure weather front that traps the polluted air.
A cold front was forecast for Beijing for Tuesday, which was expected to bring cleaner air.
China Daily also carried comments from readers including from one identified as Suleeee, who wrote: "That's why so many rich people choose to leave the city as immigrants."
Another reader, identified as Joy, wrote: "The air is always so miserable and the sky always so gray. This is the reason that I don't want to work in Beijing, even change trains." Another said: "China is so good at solving problems when really needed, hahahaha."
Xinhua said more efforts are needed to control pollution in the long run both in Beijing and other Chinese cities, where the air has held excessive levels of major pollutants in the past few days.
It quoted doctors at Beijing Chaoyang Hospital and Beijing Children's Hospital that the number of patients with respiratory problems has jumped sharply in recent days.
China reportedly has invested much to reduce polluting emissions, with the 12th Five-Year Plan calling for cutting energy consumption per unit of GDP by 16 percent, while slashing carbon emissions by 17 percent by 2015.