A heavy sandstorm hit Beijing on Tuesday, shrouding the Chinese capital in a cloud of yellow dust and hampering visibility, the local environmental department said.

Clouds of dust were being blown in from neighbouring Inner Mongolia and Shanxi province as a cold front moved in from the north, the Beijing environmental protection bureau said on its website.

Air quality has become a key concern ahead of the August Beijing Olympic Games, with city officials vowing to limit the number of cars on city streets and halt construction projects during the Games.

Dust kicked up by numerous construction projects in and around the capital is often cited as a major cause of Beijing's air pollution along with the city's growing number of cars.

The dust storm was expected to last up to three days, but could begin to dissipate on Wednesday, it said.

It was the third such dust storm to hit the capital so far this year, the bureau said.

Although Tuesday's storm limited visibility to less than one kilometre (0.62 miles) in some parts of the city, it did not lead to any flight cancellations or delays, Xinhua news agency said.