Beijing losing battle against Olympic smog
Tuesday 29 July 2008
With 10 days to go until the Beijing Olympics opens, the smog simply refuses to lift and the Games organisers are preparing emergency measures to clear the air ahead of the big day.
The traffic on the streets of Beijing is noticeably lighter, and many of the big steelworks and coal-fired power stations have been silenced. But the capital was still enveloped yesterday in a haze that restricted visibility to a couple of hundred yards.
For years the authorities have been trying to clear the yellow-tinged smog masking the city, including a recent batch of measures as a quick-fix solution. "We will implement an emergency plan 48 hours in advance if the air quality deteriorates," Li Xin, a senior engineer with the environmental bureau, told the China Daily newspaper.
It is only a week since the government introduced an odd-even number plate system which bars more than one million of Beijing's 1.3 million passenger cars from the streets. Now the government is considering banning 90 per cent of private cars and closing more factories as a last-ditch attempt clear the skies before the games start on 8 August. Beijing has already spent 120bn yuan (£8.9bn) on tackling the pollution, to no avail.
The authorities say the haze was normal for Beijing for a balmy late July and had nothing to do with pollution. "The air quality in Beijing during the Olympic Games will not affect the health of athletes," said Du Shaozhong, deputy director of Beijing's Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau, the man charged with soothing fears that the Games may be a smoggy event. Athletes planning to bring respirators were only adding unnecessarily to their baggage weight, said Mr Du, who emphasised that the figures showed the air quality was improving: "A blue sky doesn't mean the air quality is good. If you take a shower, you can't see clearly because of the steam, but it doesn't mean it's pollution."
"We can guarantee a good environment for athletes. The International Olympic Committee and its medical commission have concluded that good air quality is fully guaranteed," Mr Du added.
However, with some athletes already training in Beijing and elsewhere in China, and others due to arrive in the coming days, the government's assurances are unlikely to assuage fears that China's promise of a "Green Games" is dead in the water.
The Olympic gold-medallist and world record holder Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia has pulled out of the Beijing marathon because he suffers from asthma and believes that the pollution threatens his health.
The environmentalist group Greenpeace released a report saying that Beijing's air quality was still well short of international guidelines and that levels of particulates in the air were twice as high as recommended by the World Health Organisation.
It is still not clear exactly how bad the air has to be for an event to be cancelled, and it is forbidden to bring in measuring equipment for any independent measurement of air quality.
Jacques Rogge, the head of the International Olympic Committee, has warned that poor air quality during the Games could result in the suspension of endurance races such as long-distance cycling and the marathon.
auctionThe first 23 lots have now gone. But there are 22 more still up for grabs
healthJames Bond's alcohol consumption puts him at 'high risk' of cirrhosis, tremors... and impotence
comedy'Fresh Meat' star sees off stiff competition from Alan Carr, David Mitchell, Graham Norton, Lee Mack and Sarah Millican to win top prize
musicPolice chief rejects rappers' claims that his work is as dangerous as law enforcement or military service
tvSpoiler alert: Find out the result of a heated final show
Beatles rush out 'bootleg' album to defy EU copyright law
Harvey Weinstein reveals his secret weapon on-set
Now that an oil trader's drinking has got him sacked, will we all have to make do with an afternoon latte?
Chiwetel Ejiofor and Idris Elba get nods for Best Actor, which no black Brit has ever won
Geoffrey Macnab reviews The Desolation of Smaug - the meat in Peter Jackson's Hobbit sandwich
peopleWhat advice would David Cameron give to his younger self?
- 1 Nelson Mandela memorial: ‘Bogus’ sign language interpreter made mockery of Barack Obama’s tribute in Soweto
- 2 Mystery of Epping Forest 'big cat' is solved
- 3 French café starts charging extra to rude customers
- 4 Australia incest case: Severely deformed children found in remote farming community after generations of inbreeding
- 5 Physicists discover 'clearest evidence yet' that the Universe is a hologram