Last December, the Chinese government issued a “red alert” for 23 cities. This is the highest level of China’s air-quality warning scale. It lasted for five days. During that time, schools were closed, the government advised people to stay indoors, and most vehicles were banned from roadways (see How Small is Smog?).
“On some days, it’s like living next door to a wildfire,” says Loretta Mickley, about China’s poor air quality. Mickley is an atmospheric chemist at Harvard University in Massachusetts.
In winter, much of China’s pollution comes from burning coal for heat. Another cause is the country’s booming economy that has created more factories and power plants that produce air pollution.