Public anger in China at dangerous levels of air pollution, which blanketed Beijing in acrid smog, spread Monday as state media queried official transparency and the nation’s breakneck development.

The media joined Internet users in calling for a re-evaluation of China’s modernization process, which has seen rapid urbanization and dramatic economic development at the expense of the environment.

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Dense smog shrouded large swathes of northern China at the weekend, cutting visibility to 100 meters (yards) in some areas and forcing flight cancellations. Reports said dozens of building sites and a car factory in the capital halted work as an anti-pollution measure.

Doctors at two of the city’s major hospitals said the number of patients with respiratory problems had increased sharply in the past few days, state media reported.

“Now it has been dark with pollution for three days, at least people are starting to realize how important the environment is,” said one posting on China’s Twitter-like Sina Weibo.

At the height of the smog Beijing authorities said readings for PM2.5 — particles small enough deeply to penetrate the lungs — hit 993 micrograms per cubic meter, almost 40 times the World Health Organization’s safe limit.

Experts quoted by state media blamed low winds, saying fog had mixed with pollutants from vehicles and factories and been trapped by mountains north and west of Beijing. Coal burning in winter was also a factor, they added.

In an editorial Monday the state-run Global Times called for more transparent figures on pollution an urged the government to change its “previous method of covering up the problems and instead publish the facts”.



(Top) the Beijing skyline during severe pollution on January 14, 2013, and the same view (side right) taken during clear weather on Febuary 4, 2012. Dense smog shrouded the city with pollution at hazardous levels for a fourth day and residents were advised to stay indoors. (Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images)