Smog So Thick, Beijing Comes to a Standstill ~ This was science fiction not so long ago…

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A building with a screen on it in Beijing on Tuesday was obscured by smog that led to the city’s top level of air pollution warning.

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BEIJING — Residents across this city awoke to an environmental state of emergency on Tuesday as poisonous air quality prompted the government to close schools, force motorists off the road and shut down factories.

The government, which for the first time declared a “red alert” over air pollution late Monday, even broadcast what sounded like bombing raid alerts in the subways — warnings telling people to take precautions with their health. Yet even with those extraordinary measures, the toxic air grew worse, shrouding this capital city of more than 20 million in a soupy, metallic haze.

By 4 p.m., walking the dim streets was like strolling through a coal mine. The municipal air quality index read 308, rated “hazardous” by United States standards — a level at which people should not set foot outdoors. Because of industrial coal burning, Chinese cities regularly have air of that quality, among the world’s worst.

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