Beijing braces for New Years fireworks smog
A debate over severe air pollution was expected to make the annual barrage of noise and smoke from hundreds of thousands of fireworks a little more muted for the Chinese capital’s 20 million residents on Saturday.
As Beijing celebrated the start of the lunar Year of the Snake, officials urged people to think about the city’s alarming smog this year and consider cutting back on their rockets, firecrackers and other, increasingly large explosive devices.
The city government stopped short of more restrictions on fireworks over the 15-day holiday for the traditional Chinese new year, or Spring Festival, but it reduced the supply at 1,337 approved fireworks stalls in Beijing.
The Beijing Office for Fireworks and Firecrackers said the stalls would market 750,000 boxes of fireworks this year, down from 810,000 in 2012.
Meteorologists planned to issue a daily “fireworks index” over the holiday, suggesting which days had weather conditions more suitable for dispersing the smoke quickly.
“Setting off fireworks or firecrackers will not be safe when there are strong winds or low humidity, because it can easily cause a fire,” the Beijing Times quoted meteorologist Ding Deping as saying.
“But when there is no wind at all, setting off fireworks is not appropriate either, as the pollutants released will not be dispersed quickly and can worsen smog,” Ding said.
The government said fireworks caused 170 fires in Beijing in the first six days of the 2012 holiday, with one person killed and 194 injured.
Rather than safety concerns, this year’s campaign for caution was spurred by severe smog for 26 out of 31 days in January.
The average density of airborne PM2.5 particles was 180 micrograms per cubic metre in Beijing last month, about 30 per cent higher than the previous three years, according to official data.
PM2.5 refers to particles smaller than 2.5 micrometres, which pose a serious health hazard because they can be embedded deep into the lungs.
Environmental experts said Beijing’s pollution came mainly from vehicle emissions and coal smoke drifting over from nearby industrial areas.
The US embassy said it measured the city’s peak density of PM2.5 at more than 900 micrograms per cubic metre in early January, 45 times the limit recommended by the World Health Organization.
The official China Daily newspaper urged people to “celebrate with moderation” and said setting off fireworks was “a controversial tradition.” “It was banned in urban areas for several years to prevent accidents and injuries as well as to save people from air and noise pollution,” it said.
State broadcaster China Central Television aired a debate on Thursday called “Should we set off fireworks?” and showed electronic versions of fireworks.
Scores of cities banned fireworks in the 1990s, claiming they were too dangerous, too noisy or caused too much air pollution.
Revellers at weddings made do with party poppers or synthesized bangs from flashing electronic “firecrackers.” But many people defied the orders, especially at Chinese new year, and the unpopularity of the bans eventually made officials relent.
A total of 106 cities lifted fireworks bans before Spring Festival in 2005, including Beijing.
Beijing will welcome another lunar year with a familiar crescendo of bangs, whistles, fizzes, booms and the constant ratatat-tat of traditional firecrackers, which are normally detonated in strings of 500 to 2,000.
In ancient times, fireworks were supposed to expel evil spirits, especially a monster called Nian whose name is a homophone for the Chinese word for year.
Traditional strings of 2,000 firecrackers were on sale for 65 yuan (10.3 dollars) in Beijing on Saturday.
Many modern fireworks cost several times more, bringing sophisticated light shows and ever-larger bangs to affluent families.
A new item this year was a firework called “I love the Diaoyu islands,” aimed at patriots who back China’s claim to East China Sea islands that are disputed with Japan.
The more provocatively named “Tokyo Big Bang” fireworks were reportedly withdrawn from sale earlier this week.