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Heavy smog chokes Chinese cities amid lax enforcement

By Elizabeth Shim
Heavy smog chokes Chinese cities amid lax enforcement
A thick haze engulfs the Forbidden City in Beijing on Monday. Photo by Roman Pilipey/EPA-EFE

Dec. 10 (UPI) -- Heavy smog in China has reduced visibility to less than 500 meters while affecting the health of residents in more than 55 cities, including Beijing.

The Air Quality Index in the Chinese capital exceeded 200 on Tuesday morning and a red alert was issued, South Korean television network SBS reported Tuesday.

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Residents told the network's correspondent in Beijing they are worried about their health.

"My oldest child kept coughing all night," a Beijing woman said, adding the child has a lung problem and the symptoms worsen with the presence of smog.

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Chinese authorities said the pollution is worse this year because of the absence of the El Niño climate phenomenon and a "northerly wind" that can sweep the smog out of the atmosphere, according to the report.

The pollution also stems from weak enforcement of environmental regulations. Some Chinese companies have been granted leniency in emissions amid an "economic slowdown" in the country, according to SBS.

China's smog crisis has heavily affected neighboring South Korea. Seoul has called on Beijing for coordination and wants China to commit to reducing emissions. China said in a recent study its emissions are only responsible for about 32 percent of South Korea's fine dust problem, a claim that is disputed in South Korea. Experts have said transnational Chinese pollution could account for as much as 70 percent of South Korean smog, according to SBS.

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South Korean meteorologists said Tuesday the country will continue to experience fine dust pollution for the next few days, local news service Newsis reported.

Fine dust in the Seoul metropolitan area is expected to reach at least 76 micrograms per cubic meter, according to Seoul's National Institute of Environmental Research.

Sources at the institute said northwest winds are pushing in pollutants from North Korea, and China's Liaodong Peninsula.

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The smog could subside by Thursday, according to the report.

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