Chinese President Xi Jinping said pollution was Beijing’s biggest challenge as thick smog blanketing northern China began to clear after seven straight days at hazardous levels.

Xi called preventing air pollution the “most prominent” problem Beijing faces, according to a report on China National Radio, as pollution dropped to “very unhealthy” levels from “hazardous,” according to a U.S. Embassy monitor.

The lingering pollution in China’s capital renewed questions about the government’s determination to address environmental damage that’s accompanied three decades of double- digit economic growth. The issue will likely feature in discussions as Chinese leaders gather for an annual meeting of the national legislature next week.

The concentration of PM2.5, the small particles that pose the greatest risk to human health, dropped to 188 at 6 p.m. from above 500, or “beyond index,” earlier today, according to the U.S. Embassy pollution monitor. The World Health Organization recommends day-long exposure levels of less than 25, and the last time PM2.5 dropped below 150 in Beijing was Feb. 19.

Xi said yesterday Beijing’s main task is cutting levels of PM2.5, and the city should ease its reliance on coal and reduce vehicle use, according to China Central Television. Also yesterday, Xi visited a busy shopping street in Beijing, drawing comments from Chinese Internet users for not wearing a face mask despite the smog.

“Breathe together, share a common fate,” Beijing News wrote on its microblog when it posted photos of the mask-less Xi.

Upgraded Products

In efforts to address the smog, China’s National Energy Administration will push for upgrading fuel products, reducing coal usage and strengthening coal quality management to control pollution, according to a statement on the administration’s website today.

It also plans to boost the use of natural gas this year and speed up solar, wind and geothermal use to diversify away from coal, according to the statement.

The U.S. Embassy’s pollution monitor said the Air Quality Index in the city exceeded 150 on 26 of the last 31 days. The Xinhua News Agency said on its official Twitter account that Beijing would lift a heavy pollution alert tomorrow as a cold front approached.

“Being in Shanghai, the best thing I can say is thank God I’m not in Beijing,” said J. Paul Beddie, a Shanghai-based vice president at management consulting firm Genpact Asia Pacific. “Fifteen to twenty years from now you’ll probably see a spike in various diseases and health care issues you’ll tie back to this period in Chinese development. All great economies have gone through it.”

Unbearable Stage

Smog here is now at an “unbearable stage,” the government’s top climate-change adviser, Li Junfeng, said Feb. 23. That statement followed a Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences report that said Beijing, was “barely suitable” for living.

The conditions in Beijing were similar to those the city saw before the meeting of the legislature last year, when concentrations of PM2.5 rose to 469, according to the Beijing government.

“It is very significant what we are seeing in Beijing at the moment,” World Travel & Tourism Council President David Scowsill said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. “Because it’s live and it’s out there and it’s on the front page of the news, if that stays there and they don’t manage the situation, then in a period of three to four weeks they will see a lot of cancellations, particularly people from Asia.”

In a bid to fight Beijing’s pollution, 147 industrial companies have cut or suspended production, the Xinhua News Agency reported, citing the Beijing Municipal Economic and Information Commission. In Liaoning and Shandong provinces, visibility fell to less than 50 meters and expressways were closed, Xinhua said.

Penny Peng and Gregory Turk, with assistance from Feiwen Rong in Beijing. Editors: Nicholas Wadhams, Andrew Davis.

To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Penny Peng in Beijing at; Gregory Turk in Shanghai at To contact the editor responsible for this story: Nicholas Wadhams at

Photo Credit: Tourists use mobile phones to take photos of themselves wearing masks on a heavily polluted day on Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China, Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014. Alexander F. Yuan / AP Photo