A view of downtown Shanghai shows severe pollution on 5 December 2013. Photo: Peter Parks / AFP / Getty Images

6 December 2013 (Bloomberg News) – Shanghai ordered vehicles off the road and factories to cut production after pollution reached hazardous levels, as Hong Kong announced plans to introduce an air quality index that assesses health risks from smog.

A heavy fog shrouding Shanghai caused widespread flight cancellations and sent an air quality index monitored by the U.S. consulate in the city surging past 500 to the “beyond index” category. Hong Kong’s air pollution index reached “very high” levels at three roadside monitors, according to its Environment Protection Department.

Heavy pollution may undermine plans for the financial hubs to attract foreign talent and investment and push up health-care costs. Outdoor air pollution can cause lung cancer, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a World Health Organization agency said in October, ranking it as a carcinogen for the first time.

“The pollution is worse today and the fog is getting heavier,” said Zhang Yanbing, analyst at Zheshang Securities Co. in Shanghai. “I am not prohibiting my kids from going outside because we have to learn to grow up in all kinds of environment. But they are definitely wearing face masks.”

Shanghai took emergency steps against pollution, ordering 30 percent of government-used vehicles off the road and industrial companies to reduce or halt production, the city said on its microblog.

Premier Li Keqiang pledged in March to clean up pollution including cutting coal consumption, shutting steel plants and controlling the number of cars. Pollution has become the top cause of social unrest in China, Chen Jiping, a former leading member of the Communist Party’s Committee of Political and Legislative Affairs, said that same month.

Shanghai’s air quality level was at 455 at 4 p.m., the U.S. consulate in Shanghai said. Pollution is hazardous and people should take steps to reduce their exposure such as staying indoors in a room or building with filtered air, it said. Visibility was as low as 600 meters in some parts of the city, according to a government weather website.

The Shanghai government pegged the air quality level at 473, or “severe,” the highest in a six-tier rating system, according to its own monitoring system. Today’s level surpasses the previous record of 317, the Shanghai Daily reported. Local authorities warned children and elderly people to stay indoors. […]

At least half of the students at the Origin Education Children’s House, a private kindergarten in Shanghai, didn’t show up today, said Qian Ying, a teacher at the school. The kindergarten also canceled all outdoor activities, Qian said.

Masks and air purifiers produced by 3M Co. (MMM) have mostly sold out, Royce Hua, its Shanghai-based head of corporate communications, said by telephone today. The company won’t be able to boost production in the near future because capacity has been reached, he said. […]

An orange-level haze alert, the second highest, remained in effect, according to China’s meterological authority. Elevated highways were facing heavy congestion with some highway entrances closed and some river traffic halted, the Shanghai government information office’s microblog said.

“It’s horrible out there,” said Scott Goldman, an American who works as a project manager for Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business in Shanghai. “I was just up in Beijing three days ago. Usually Beijing’s worse but not this time.” [more]

Shanghai Orders Cars Off Roads as Pollution Exceeds Scale

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