A traditional pavilion is surrounded in smog in Beijing's Houhai area. Photo: Reuters /Jason Lee
A traditional pavilion is surrounded in smog in Beijing's Houhai area. Photo: Reuters /Jason Lee

A thick blanket of smog covered vast parts of northern China on Monday. Air quality readings in Shanxi province accelerated past levels considered hazardous to health.

The air quality index in the city of Linfen hit 428, which refers to the tiny toxic particles known as PM2.5, the National Environmental Monitoring Center’s real-time data showed. Smog levels above 300 are considered dangerous.

Elsewhere, the index for Anyang in Henan province reached 388, while Weinan in Shaanxi was 384 and Handan in Hebei 382.

This latest smog alert came after the Ministry of Environmental Protection announced last week that it had made significant progress in reducing the problem.

“Levels of PM2.5 in Beijing, Tianjin and 26 other cities in the northern region had declined by 33.1% between October and December from a year earlier,” it reported.

But in a report released on Thursday, Greenpeace stated that this was down to “exceptionally favorable weather” and beefed up environmental inspections to curb industrial production.

On Sunday, state news agency Xinhua reported that three cities in Hebei province had raised their pollution alerts to red – the highest in a four-tier system.

China has been waging a “war on pollution” since 2014 in a bid to reverse the environmental and political damage done by more than three decades of breakneck economic growth.

At the weekend, officials in the provinces of Jiangxi and Henan were punished for tampering with pollution monitoring equipment in order to reduce smog readings, the environmental protection agency reported.

It said officials in the cities of Xinyu in Jiangxi and Xinyang in Henan, attempted to reduce emission readings by spraying water on the air quality sensors.

Both cities are major producers of polluting and energy-intensive nonferrous metals, such as aluminum and copper.

The officials responsible were dismissed or subjected to “administrative” punishments.

“Regardless of whether they deny deliberately tampering and whether or not it has an obvious impact on emissions data, spraying water on air quality monitoring sampling points … disrupts the normal operations of air quality monitoring,” the ministry said.

– with Reuters

Read: China acts to clear the smog of war against pollution