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China to release stricter smog readings for Beijing

By David Challenger, CNN
updated 12:15 AM EST, Wed January 11, 2012
A traveller looks out at an airplane shrouded in smog at Beijing International Airport on December 5, 2011.
A traveller looks out at an airplane shrouded in smog at Beijing International Airport on December 5, 2011.
  • Beijing to detect the presence of particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers
  • Thousands of passengers were stranded Tuesday morning due to a thick dark cloud of smog
  • The haze prompted 34 flight cancellations and delayed 98 others
  • Analysts have blamed the thick haze on rapid urbanization and industrialization

(CNN) -- China has announced it will soon begin releasing information on Beijing's problematic air pollution in finer detail for the first time.

The Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau has confirmed to CNN that it will start releasing data on tiny particulate matter just before Chinese New Year (January 23), as well as information on sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and larger particles.

The information will be gathered from efforts of monitoring stations to detect the presence of PM 2.5 (particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers). The previous standard measurement was PM 10.

The U.S. Consulate General in Guangzhou explains that these smaller particles "are believed to pose the largest health risks" and "are small enough to get into the lungs and even the blood stream."

The confirmation comes a day after thousands of passengers were stranded in Beijing after dozens of early morning flights were either canceled or delayed due to a thick, dark cloud of smog that rolled through the Chinese capital.

Smog impacts travel, health in China

The haze prompted 34 flight cancellations and delayed 98 others after visibility dropped to less than 200 meters in the airspace surrounding Beijing, state media reported.

Air carriers resumed normal flight schedules as of 10 a.m. (local), according to Xinhua. But the city's air quality continued to be listed as "fair."

China air pollution: 'Slightly polluted' or 'hazardous'?

The U.S. Embassy, which reports pollution levels on its Twitter feed, said the accumulation of air particles was "beyond index" for most of the morning, which means the pollution exceeded the scale used to measure it.

The U.S. Embassy and Chinese officials use different systems to measure air pollution. The U.S. Embassy's air quality monitor includes smaller particles that are less than PM 2.5.

Last month, Beijing's Capital International Airport canceled more than 200 incoming and outgoing flights and delayed more than 125 others because of smog.

Analysts have blamed the thick haze on rapid urbanization and industrialization.

Beijing, for instance, burned some 27 million tons of coal in 2010, according to state-run media.

Despite efforts to limit the number cars with an auto-plate lottery, it's estimated that Beijing now has over 5 million cars, up from about 3.5 million in 2008.

Pollution is more acute because of the sheer size of the city's population (17 million) and the rapid speed of its economic growth, experts say.

CNN's Haolan Hong contributed to this report.

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