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Beijing Says Its Air Quality Improved Last Year. These Videos Suggest Otherwise

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The scene turns from clear to murky in just 12 seconds, as Beijing’s skyline becomes obscured by what appears to be a thick wall of smog drifting over the Chinese capital. The time-lapse video, first uploaded to YouTube on Monday, has received more than 150,000 views, and puts China’s air-pollution problem into a frightening new perspective.

Each winter, heavy smog blankets Beijing and the surrounding region as people burn more coal for heating. An “orange alert” for smog, the second-highest warning level, was in effect on Tuesday, reports Reuters, as the level of harmful PM2.5 particulates in the city’s air rose above 500 micrograms per cu m. (The World Health Organization’s definition of a “safe” PM2.5 level is under 25.)

Read More: Beijing’s Air Pollution Is Frightening. This Video Shows Just How Bad It Gets

Chas Pope, the Beijing-based Briton who made the time-lapse, said in the clip’s description that the smog he captured exceeded 400 on the U.S. air-quality index — a level within the U.S. definition of “hazardous” air quality, reports the New York Times.

Over the holiday period hundreds of flights were canceled or delayed in China because of the smog. Bloomberg reports that a third of China’s cities have been affected, with 25 issuing red alerts.

Another smog-related video making the rounds online this week, as reported by the South China Morning Post, shows drone footage uploaded by Chinese state media of huge lines of gridlocked traffic on highways near Beijing, shrouded in thick, grayish smog.

But Chinese officials have said that the overall air-quality picture in Beijing has improved, according to Reuters. Data provided to Chinese media by the Beijing municipal’s environment-protection bureau shows that PM2.5 concentration in Beijing fell by 9.9% to an average of 73 micrograms per cu m in 2016 — still 109% over the national standard.

Citing Chinese state media, Reuters reports that there were 12 more “blue-sky days” in 2016 than the year before, totaling 198 days, while coal consumption, as well as the numbers of polluting factories and high-emitting cars, was cut.

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