North China air quality shows no improvement from last September

(This version of the October 28 story corrects “the country’s PM2.5 levels” to “the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region’s PM2.5 levels” in para 8 and corrects target)

BEIJING (Reuters) - Air quality in the Chinese capital and neighboring regions showed no improvement in September compared with last year, data from the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) showed on Saturday, despite a major campaign to fight pollution.

The results will keep up pressure on Beijing, which has promised to show significant progress in cleaning up its filthy air by the end of this year.

Of 74 cities monitored by the MEP, Beijing, Tianjin, Zhengzhou in Henan, Taiyuan in Shanxi and six cities in Hebei province, including the steel producing city of Tangshan, were China’s most polluted cities last month.

All of the cities were among the 28 named by the MEP in August to be subject to a major campaign to tackle air pollution this winter.

But ahead of the campaign, local authorities had already begun to inspect factories, forcing many to shut down some of their operations during September.

Hebei province has sent out 1,400 inspectors to conduct environmental checks across the province since early September.

Despite such moves, the concentration of hazardous airborne particles known as PM2.5 in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei area remained at around 52 micrograms in September, the same as last year.

And PM2.5 levels in Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei have now increased by 10.3 percent to 64 micrograms per cubic meter in the first nine months of the year, making it more difficult for Beijing to meet its pledge to reduce the city’s yearly average to below 60 micrograms in 2017.

The data comes just a few weeks before northern China switches on heating, typically increasing levels of pollution as coal-fired heating plants ramp up output.

This year, companies in the steel, metal smelting, cement and coke industries will be asked to stagger production and reduce use of coal-fueled trucks from November 15 until March 15 next year.

Top steel-making cities Tangshan and Handan in Hebei province have already enforced the winter production plans.

Reporting by Muyu Xu and Dominique Patton