A severe sandstorm originating from the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region and industrial emissions from southern China blanketed Beijing and adjoining regions on Wednesday.
Choking pollution reduced visibility with fine particulate matter (PM) level rising to a record high. Beijing's Air Quality Index (AQI) showed the PM10 level crossing 2,000 micrograms early in the morning, before the figure dropped to 999 later in the day.
PM2.5 hovered beyond the safe limits at 200 micrograms. Other industrial pollutants, including nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide, were within the safe limit.
Experts claimed that sand particles and silt brought in by the sandstorm had spiked the PM10 level in most parts of northern China. "The current spike in sand particles and silt don't have much impact on human health, but rising PM2.5 levels due to industries are a matter of concern," Lauri Myllyvirta, an air pollution specialist told CGTN.
Weather forecasts on Monday predicted that it would be unlikely for the sandstorm to impact Beijing. However, a sudden change in the wind patterns sent the sandstorm sweeping through China's north region.
The unexpected weather condition comes after China successfully controlled winter smog to a large extent last year.
Air pollution experts predict a rise in air pollution after mid-March as the limit on industrial output, curtailed to combat winter pollution, was lifted. Last winter, China reduced industrial production by more than 50 percent to control the smog. Also, gas replaced coal-based heating systems leading to dramatic reduction in pollution.
The government's crackdown on air pollution resulted in a significant 54 percent drop in PM2.5 in 2017, the highest reductions recorded in winter. In 2016, PM2.5 levels hovered at 108 micrograms, nearly double the 2017 level of 67.4 micrograms. PM10 levels also witnessed a drastic drop from 137 micrograms in 2016 to almost 71.6 micrograms last winter, a reduction of 41.7 percent.
Rising temperatures brought down winter heating, but enhanced industrial production in March, leading to a spike in air pollution. On Monday, concerned with the rising pollution, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment issued a three-day orange alert cautioning severe pollution in the Beijing-Hebei region from Monday to Wednesday.