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Companies give workers smog masks

Pollution staying at hazardous levels

Two men wearing masks walk on an elevated pedestrian bridge near Beijing's Central Business District on a hazy day, in China, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013. (AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan)

Two men wearing masks walk on an elevated pedestrian bridge near Beijing's Central Business District on a hazy day, in China, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013. (AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan)

Apple, JPMorgan Chase, Toyota and Honda gave employees face masks, offered health tips and added office plants as pollution in Beijing hit hazardous levels for a 19th day this month.

Beijing’s city government recommended that its 20 million residents stay indoors for a second day as the local environmental monitoring center gave yesterday’s air quality the worst rating on its six-level scale. A U.S. Embassy pollution monitor showed air quality in the Chinese capital reached hazardous levels for a fifth consecutive day.

Companies across Beijing have sought to protect the health of their current employees while facing the prospect of increasing difficulties in attracting others to a city grappling with pollution levels that Li Keqiang, set to become China’s next premier, has said will take time to reduce.

“Over the next few years the quality of life in Beijing will be something that has an impact on salaries,” said Simon Lance, Shanghai-based regional director at Hays Plc. The company has previously helped JPMorgan, Barclays Plc, and other companies with hiring, according to its website.

The concentration of PM2.5, the fine air particulates that pose the greatest human health risk, was 297 micrograms per cubic meter at 2 p.m., compared with 302 at 10 a.m., according to the U.S. Embassy monitoring station. The PM2.5 reading near Tiananmen Square was 299 at 2 p.m. and had averaged 274 in the past 24 hours, according to the Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center. The World Health Organization recommends 24-hour exposure to PM2.5 of no higher than 25.

Toyota has put more green plants in its Beijing offices to help with air quality, said spokesman Liu Peng. The carmaker’s offices, which it began using in October and where it has about 400 workers, is equipped with one air purifier for every two workstations, she said..

JPMorgan has provided health tips and distributed emergency kits that include masks to its employees in Beijing, spokeswoman Lisa Liang said by email. The bank’s management is closely monitoring the situation and “exploring other options,” she said.

Honda has provided face masks to about 100 staff at its China headquarters in Beijing, said spokesman Zhu Linjie.

At Apple’s retail store on Beijing’s Xidan Avenue, just four of the outlet’s more than four dozen sales people were wearing face masks yesterday. Spokeswoman Carolyn Wu confirmed that the maker of iPhones and iPads had distributed masks to its workers in the city.

None of the workers at the nearby Hennes & Mauritz, Adidas and Fast Retailing outlets were wearing masks. Fast
Retailing will consider appropriate action in the future if necessary, the maker of the Uniqlo clothing brand said in an email.

Elevated PM2.5 levels contributed to 8,572 premature deaths in the cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Xian last year, according to a study released by Greenpeace and Peking University’s School of Public Health. Beijing this month proposed rules that would increase fines for vehicle emissions and force more factory shutdowns when smog reaches dangerous levels.

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