Beijing chokes under a haze of 'crazy bad' smog

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The US Embassy's Beijing air quality index is the only reliable indicator of how bad the pollution is in the Chinese capital. Early yesterday morning it slid to "crazy bad" according to the embassy's Twitter feed, certainly the worst levels of smog for a long time.

The message was later taken down and instead the usual, and more diplomatic, "hazardous" was run, usual for when the air quality goes above 500 on the index, which measures even the smallest dust particles. The initial twitter language may have been deemed inappropriate, but it was accurate.

The official government rating was just 312 yesterday, but no one pays attention to the government figures, which chronically under-report the foul air in the capital.

A yellow-tinged haze softens the edges of the skyscrapers in Beijing, almost everyone has a cough and there is a constant clearing of throats. It seems as if the whole city is on two packets of cigarettes a day. Looking east from The Independent's office, the normally vivid "China World" sign that sits on top of the China World Trade Centre is a yellow-reddish glow.

The pollution is blamed on the rise in the number of passenger cars – which rose by 9.3 per cent to 170 million last year, 25 times that in 1980.