TOXIC air pollution in China's capital city, Beijing, is now so bad it resembles nuclear winter, Chinese scientists have warned.
Pollution is even impeding photosynthesis in plants, something that could end up "wreaking havoc" on the country's food supply, The Guardian warns.
Six of the country's northern provinces have been covered with a layer of persistent smog for the past week. Experts predict that the pollution will not lift until Thursday.
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In Beijing, concentration of PM2.5 particles – the tiny atoms that cause the air to appear hazy and produce adverse health effects when inhaled – rose to 505 micrograms per cubic metre on Tuesday night. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends a safe level of 25, the Guardian notes.
China's representative at the WHO admitted that current levels of PM2.5 particles constituted a "crisis".
Smog in northern China has closed schools and airports. Visibility in parts of Harbin, Heilongjiang province, was reduced to less than 50 metres last week, the BBC reports. All the province's highways were closed and airlines were grounded as thick pollution engulfed the region.
Almost 150 industrial companies have suspended operations until the smog lifts, but schools have remained open in spite of government regulations that prohibit students from attending class if pollution levels remain hazardous for more than three days in a row.
On Monday, the Forbidden City, one of Beijing's major tourist attractions had only 11,200 visitors – a quarter of the usual number during this time of year.
He Dongxian, an associate professor at China Agricultural University's College of Water Resources and Civil Engineering, said that if the current levels persist, Chinese agriculture will be exposed to conditions "somewhat similar to a nuclear winter".
The scientist warned that the smog could threaten the country's ability to grow crops. "Now almost every farm is caught in a smog panic," she said.
The warning follows a report from Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences earlier in the month that claimed Beijing's pollution made the city almost "uninhabitable for human beings," the South China Morning Post reports.
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