Monday, February 07, 2011

New Year fireworks blamed for fires & pollution

As China entered the year of the rabbit, millions across the country rushed to set off fireworks to celebrate the new year. But the festivities have come at a price with countless fires reported, a rise in pollution, many injuries and even deaths.

The setting off of fireworks is a Chinese New Year holiday tradition which is said to ward off evil spirits and monsters. But in many places it has created problems.

According to figures released by the fire control bureau of the Ministry of Public Security on Sunday more than 5,945 fires had been tackled by firefighters during the 32-hour span from the beginning of Wednesday, the last day of the previous lunar year, to 8 am on Thursday.

The number of fires accounted for nearly 80% of reported incidents over the entire 7 day festival last year when a total of 7,480 fires were reported.

In Beijing, two people were killed and 223 injured between the start of Wednesday 2nd February and Thursday the 3rd. On Wednesday alone, the number of fireworks-related fires in the city was up by 178% according to the Beijing Municipal Office on Fireworks and Firecrackers.

The two people killed in Beijing, both men, died after setting off inferior quality fireworks in the early hours of Thursday, the office said. Many of the 223 who suffered injuries had wounds ranging from eye injuries to burns.

Authorities have warned people to be on the look out for cheap badly made fireworks, and there has been a widespread publicity campaign to urge the public to act responsibly when setting them off.

Many areas around the city are plastered with posters prohibiting the setting off of fireworks. However, these have been widely ignored.

Ignoring the warning has come at a high price for some. In Shenyang, capital of Northeast China's Liaoning province, a massive fire gutted a five-star hotel early on Thursday. Local officials said there were about 50 people in the hotel at the time and all were evacuated. There were no reported casualties.

Although investigations into the cause of the fire are continuing, police said the blaze was probably triggered by fireworks igniting external decorations.

The smoke issued from fireworks has also created problems with a rise in air pollution reported in many cities. On Friday, 27 of the 86 monitored cities were heavily polluted, according to figures released from the Ministry of Environmental Protection.

Only two cities, Lhasa in Southwest China's Tibet autonomous region and Zhanjiang in South China's Guangdong province, enjoyed excellent air quality.

Wei Hongming, deputy director of the environmental monitoring station in Wuhan, in Central China's Hubei province, said that fireworks were the main reason for the city's air pollution, as they released large amounts of smoke, dust and sulphur dioxide [China Daily].

Increased car usage was also blamed on reducing air quality as millions of people visited relatives and friends.

The rise in pollution levels over the last few days is unfortunate. Just before the new year began Beijing was celebrating a month of unprecedented clean air. Du Shaozhong, deputy director of the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Administration, told the Guardian that January 2011 has been "the best month we've had in terms of air quality since 1998".

The newspaper reported that Beijing had experienced its first uninterrupted month of blue skies in ten years. The improved air quality was due to government restrictions on coal burning and car emissions in January, the paper said.

"In terms of environmental quality, we are on the way. We are climbing every day and trying to improve air quality," Shaozhong said

Despite his positive comments, the Independent revealed data from AirNow, CITEAIR and the American Embassy in Beijing last month, which found that Beijing's atmosphere was 'unhealthy for sensitive groups' on January 4th and 5th of this year.

There continues to be a wide discrepancy between China's own air monitoring and independent air monitoring stations. And there is a fierce debate over which is correct [].

Tweets from the US Embassy's monitoring station have shown a deterioration over the last week in the last week dropping from 'moderate' through 'unhealthy for sensitive groups' to 'unhealthy'. Their Twitter messages [@BeijingAir] stopped at 05:00 yesterday [6th February] with the last reading of 60AQI and 'moderate'. Maybe this was a politically correct move to avoid issuing contentious tweets such as seen last November when they described the Beijing air as 'Crazy Bad' [Guardian / tvnewswatch - Twitpic]. But one needed only to look out of the window on Monday to see a sharp depreciation in air quality [tvnewswatch - Twitpic].

Bizarrely even Google described the weather in Beijing rather differently. "Beijing today: 3°C | Current: Smoke | Wind: E at 4 mph.." [tvnewswatch - Twitpic].

The Guardian last week reported that Beijing was set to penalise heavy polluters by imposing a 'green tax'. However, it is unclear whether this will extend to fireworks manufacturers or those who engage in setting them off.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

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