Photo taken on 00:13 on Feb. 10, 2013 shows smog covering the downtown area of Zhushan County, central China's Hubei Province, after residents around the area set off fireworks to celebrate the arrival of Chinese Lunar New Year. Setting off fireworks is a tradition in China during the Spring Festival, which result in air pollution in varying degrees. [Xinhua/Zhang Lei]
As China celebrates Spring Festival with exuberant displays of fireworks at night, the cost to pay is deteriorating air quality.
In Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei, a province known for its severe air pollution, the monitoring index showed that during the weekend, on Lunar New Year's Eve and Spring Festival, the air quality index hit a hazardous 342.
At midnight on Saturday, which also saw a peak for fireworks displays, the density of PM2.5, particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, jumped sharply to 701 micrograms per cubic meter, an increase of 470 percent over the average density the day before.
Fireworks also fogged up other cities during Spring Festival, including Beijing, Shanghai, Wuhan of Hubei province and Xi'an of Shaanxi province, reducing the air quality to severely polluted levels.
It has been a time-honored tradition to set off fireworks during Spring Festival, but the joy of the celebration comes at increasingly high cost, both in terms of environmental damage and physical injury.
The hazards have caused many to resist setting off firework in many cities.
Liu Yang, a resident in Shijiazhuang, was one of them. The mother of a 10-month-old baby boy bought several strings of electronic fireworks this year and hung them in her house.
"I can hear the sound and see the sparkling lights, which is enough for me to feel festive," she said.
"The air was so bad that my parents and my son could not walk out the house."
She bought several more strings to give to her relatives, but she says they all loved the gift but still bought fireworks and firecrackers.
"It's a tradition that cannot be changed over a short time," she said. "But I hope we can do something to reduce the huge amount of fireworks burnt each year."
Like her, many other residents are equally concerned, but in varying degrees.
Li Xiao'ou, 25, a Beijing resident, compromised by cutting down the time and amount spent on fireworks.
"I know we urgently need to protect the environment, but it's not appropriate to ban fireworks because they are so much a part of the festivities," he said. So Liu decided to spend only 100 yuan ($16) on fireworks this year.
Although many voiced their concern about the air pollution, many said they still support the traditional fireworks celebration during the festival.
"Some may complain about the noise, but fireworks are one of the symbols of Spring Festival, and they remind us that it's a new year," said Wu Jinghui, a resident of Shijiazhuang.
"A large part of pollutants comes from industrial pollution and vehicle emissions. Compared to these, the pollution from the fireworks is limited, and only for a short period," he said.
"The government needs to strengthen efforts to deal with the main sources instead of banning fireworks."
But almost everyone noticed that there has been fewer fireworks set off this year because of the higher awareness of damage to the environment.
A cleaner, surnamed Liu, said she has had less work this year clearing up the firework debris in Shijiazhuang.
"I used to work an hour earlier during the festival and spend the whole day clearing it up. I actually finished my work earlier on Sunday, because there was less waste on the streets." The 52-year-old cleaner was in charge of part of Jianshe Street, a main street in Shijiazhuang.
In Beijing, more than 1,586 metric tons of fireworks waste was removed from midnight on the eve to 9 am Sunday, about 155 tons less than last year, according to the Beijing Municipal Commission of City Administration and Environment.
Many regional governments imposed measures to restrict the time and location of letting off fireworks this year.
The Hebei government shortened the time to three days, while the Beijing has encouraged residents to restrain themselves, in order to enjoy better air quality and blue skies.