Beijing - China’s smog was making it harder for foreign firms to convince top executives to work in the country, the American Chamber of Commerce in Beijing said on Tuesday, offering some of the strongest evidence yet on how pollution is hurting recruitment.

About 48 percent of the 365 foreign companies that replied to the chamber’s annual survey, which covers businesses in China’s northern cities, said concerns over air quality were turning senior executives away.

Pollution was “a difficulty in recruiting and retaining senior executive talent”, the report said. This year’s figure is a jump from the 19 percent of foreign companies that said smog was a problem for recruitment in 2010.

China’s slowing economy, however, remained the top risk for companies, the report said.

Foreign executives increasingly complain about pollution in China and the perceived impact it is having on their health and that of their families. Several high-profile executives have left China in recent years, citing pollution as the main reason for their decision to go.

Almost all Chinese cities monitored for pollution last year failed to meet state standards, but northern China suffers the most. It is home to much of China’s coal, steel and cement production. It is also much colder, relying on industrial coal boilers to provide heating during the long winter.

The capital Beijing, for example, is surrounded by the big and heavily polluted industrial province of Hebei. It is also choked by traffic.

By contrast, China’s commercial capital Shanghai, in the south, suffers less air pollution. Indeed, a similar survey conducted by the American Chamber of Commerce’s Shanghai branch did not even ask if pollution was affecting recruitment.

Premier Li Keqiang “declared war” on pollution at the opening of parliament this month. – Reuters