October 30, 2019 / 2:06 AM / a month ago

China's Hebei issues orange smog alert effective Nov. 1

SHANGHAI/BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s top steelmaking province of Hebei has issued an “orange” smog alert effective from Nov. 1, with pollution expected to be “severe”, the local environment bureau said on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: A woman wearing a mask walks past buildings on a polluted day in Handan, Hebei province, China January 12, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer

Unfavorable weather conditions, including rising humidity and weak southerly winds, would make it harder for smog particles to be diffused, it said. Orange is the second-highest level on a three-tiered smog alert system that triggers emergency measures.

To minimize economic disruption, firms included on a “positive list” - those that have complied with rules to reduce pollution - will not be asked to shut down or cut output over the period. However, they will be encouraged to take voluntary action to reduce emissions, the bureau said.

Hebei province, which surrounds the capital Beijing, contained five of China’s 10 smoggiest cities in the first three quarters of this year, according to official data.

It promised this week that it would strictly punish officials responsible for missing winter smog targets, but it also vowed to implement a more nuanced approach to controlling pollution and refrain from blanket industrial closures.

China’s top steelmaking city Tangshan, which is in Hebei, will impose second-level pollution measures from Oct.31, according to local media. Some steel mills will be ordered to halt sintering and pellet production, and some will also have to curtail blast furnaces operations by at least 50%.

Northern China is about to embark on its third year of winter pollution controls, but according to a Reuters analysis of official data, its targets for 2019-2020 are not ambitious enough to offset last year’s surge in smog throughout the region.

As many as 15 of the 28 smog-prone cities in and around the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region could still experience higher smog levels than two years ago, even if they meet their targets, stoking fears that China was easing off in a bid to reduce economic pressures.

Asked about China’s ambitions this year, Liu Youbin, a spokesman for the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, told reporters on Tuesday that “the intensity would not be reduced and the pressure would not change.”

But he also warned that winter weather conditions this year were expected to be much more unfavorable than two years ago, when strong winds helped disperse emissions.

Reporting by David Stanway in Shanghai and Muyu Xu, Min Zhang in Beijing; by Michael Perry and Richard Pullin

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