The air quality is so bad in parts of China that people think it's snowing and a city of 11 million has basically been forced to shut down.
Choking smog all but shut down one of northeastern China's largest cities on Monday, forcing schools to suspended classes, snarling traffic and closing the airport, in the country's first major air pollution crisis of the winter.
An index measuring PM2.5, or particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5), reached a reading of 1,000 in some parts of Harbin, the gritty capital of northeastern Heilongjiang province and home to some 11 million people.
A level above 300 is considered hazardous, while the World Health Organisation recommends a daily level of no more than 20.
The smog not only forced all primary and middle schools to suspend classes, but shut the airport and some public bus routes, the official Xinhua news agency reported, blaming the emergency on the first day of the heating being turned on in the city for winter. Visibility was reportedly reduced to 10 meters.
This problem isn't just isolated to one city. Areas all around China where coal is burned for electricity are suffering from this toxic air.
The AP reports:
Winter typically brings the worst air pollution to northern China because of a combination of weather conditions and an increase in the burning of coal for homes and municipal heating systems, which usually start on a specific date. For the large northern city of Harbin, the city's heating systems kicked in Sunday, and on Monday visibility there was less than 50 meters (yards), according to state media.
"I couldn't see anything outside the window of my apartment, and I thought it was snowing," said Wu Kai, 33, a housewife and mother of a baby boy, said in a telephone interview from Harbin. "Then I realized it wasn't snow. I have not seen the sun for a long time."
As this video from Financial Times reports, it isn't just coal power that is polluting the air. A steel mill and other industry is contributing to the terrible smog, as well.