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Air Pollution Closed Schools in China

Officials blamed the influx of smog on three factors—windless conditions, bonfires of recently harvested corn stalks and a newly fired-up municipal heating system.

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A street scene in Harbin. Photo: Sino Weibo, via Quartz

Pollution levels in Harbin, a city in northeast China not far from the Russian border, got so bad this week that schools were shut down, flights were cancelled and several highways closed. Visibility fell to just 33 feet, Quartz writes—about the same as it would be in a blizzard. Air quality readings plummeted about 20 times below that issued safe by the World Health Organization, leading to a 30 percent increase in patients reporting respiratory problems at Harbin’s hospitals, the New York Times’ Sinosphere blog reports.

People in Harbin describe the conditions, as reported by the Times:

“You can hear the person you are talking to, but not see him.”

“You can’t see your own fingers in front of you.”

“If you think this is the movie set for ‘Silent Hill,’ ‘Resident Evil’ or ‘The Walking Dead,’ you are wrong — this is Harbin.”

Officials blamed the influx of smog, the Times says, on three factors—windless conditions, bonfires of recently harvested corn stalks and a municipal heating system, recently fired up to ward off the Siberian cold. However, it’s likely that the heating system, which currently runs on coal, is creating most of the problem.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Most of China’s Infamous Black Smog Comes from Cars and Cook Fires 
This Weird Map Visualizes Air Pollution as Nose Hair Length 

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