BEIJING (Reuters) - Seven of China's 10 smoggiest cities were located in the northern steel-producing province of Hebei in 2015, the same as the previous year, despite an economic downturn and a high-profile campaign to cut industrial capacity.
Baoding, Xingtai, Hengshui and Tangshan, all in Hebei, ranked the worst over the whole of 2015, according to a report published by the Ministry of Environmental Protection on Thursday.
The ministry monitors air quality in 338 cities throughout the country, measuring six key pollutants including sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, ozone as well as two types of hazardous airborne particles known as PM10 and PM2.5.
The ministry said 73 cities, or 21.6 percent of the total monitored, met state air quality standards last year. It did not provide figures for the previous year. The best performing cities included Zhoushan, Fuzhou, Xiamen and Shenzhen, all on the southeast coast.
Hebei, which surrounds the capital Beijing, is responsible for about a quarter of China's total steel production. It is under pressure to close polluting steel mills but it has struggled to find alternative sources of growth and employment.
It said in its government work report published in January that it would "strive to exit from the list of 10 most polluted cities nationwide". It said it was aiming to cut 2013 levels of PM2.5 by 40 percent by 2020.
It has pledged to cut steel capacity by 60 million tonnes over 2013-2017, and cut total coal consumption by 40 million tonnes over the same period, but it has also promised to keep registered unemployment levels to within 4.5 percent this year.
(Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Michael Perry)