Air pollution in China's capital city is reaching sobering levels. The World Health Organization warns that levels for fine airborne particulates that pose the greatest health risks should go no higher than 25 for 24-hour exposure on the PM2.5 scale. On January 22, the official Beijing government reading near Tiananmen Square reached 258 at 4 a.m. The city rates it as "heavily polluted."

It was even worse at the US Embassy at that same time, where a sensor found that the PM2.5 level had reached 441. This was on a day when the city had ordered government vehicles off the roads as part of an emergency response to record pollution that hit Beijing earlier in January.

So, the city government is looking for solutions. To try and reduce air pollutants by two percent this year, Beijing will take 180,000 old vehicles off the roads and replace coal-burning heaters in 44,000 homes. The city is also promoting clean-energy vehicles among its departments, the public, street cleaners and trash collectors.

The Xinhua News Agency reported that top city official Wang Anshun spelled out the program at the opening of Beijing's legislative session. Beijing also plans to reduce coal consumption by 1.4 million tons and emissions from volatile organic compounds by 8,000 tons. About 450 heavily polluting plants will also be closed.

The city of Beijing appears ready and willing to take drastic actions to reduce pollution during a period of population growth, high-volume car sales, and a rapidly expanding industrial economy. The stakes are getting higher each year.

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