Beijing has welcomed the Chinese New Year with extraordinarily high levels of smog and pollution amidst all the celebration and fireworks, according to reports.

City officials, who have been under pressure to release factual information about air quality in the huge metropolis, revealed that its monitoring devices indicate a dramatic spike in air pollution during the initial hours of the Year of the Dragon.

The U.S. embassy in Beijing has long asserted that city air pollution is far worse that local authorities will admit to.

The city government’s PM2.5 index measures air particles which are below 2.5 micrometers in size. Prior to Saturday, officials were using something called the PM10 index, which measured larger suspended particles.

Beijing Environmental Monitoring Centre said the PM2.5 index came in at 1.593mg/m3 early Monday, which the US embassy said it three times the level that is considered “hazardous” to humans. However, later in the day, when natives of Beijing returned indoors after celebrating with fireworks, the pollution index had fallen substantially.

Still, air pollution and other environmental issues are of grave concern to many Chinese – the inexorable path towards economic advancement has come with a callous disregard for the country’s natural resources. Beijing in particular is notorious for its poor air quality, leading more residents to demand accurate information from the government about the impact of pollution upon their health.

Last month, Beijing residents endured several consecutive days of very heavy smog, which cut visibility and even forced some airplanes to cancel flights and roads to shut down temporarily. Many people in the city often wear face masks to protect themselves.

Damian Grammaticas, a BBC correspondent in Beijing, recently commented: “The capital’s pollution is far more than just an environmental problem; it is becoming a political issue too. Put frankly many people simply don't believe official air quality figures.”

He added: “Many Chinese people are already skeptical about a lot of what they hear from the Communist Party and the bureaucrats who run China. From tainted baby milk to dangerous pesticides and additives in food there have been many recent health scares. The safety of the food people eat and the air they breathe are everyday concerns for millions of people. So there is likely to be even deeper cynicism if the smog is thick and officials are insisting things are fine.”