Changing China

Giant on the move


July 29, 2008

With only 10 days to go before the opening of the Olympic Games, the iconic Bird’s Nest national stadium in Beijing was visible again on Tuesday (July 29). The stadium had been shrouded in smog for days previously, despite last-ditch attempts to turn the smokey and dusty Chinese capital into the promised pollution-free Olympic venue. The temperature on Tuesday was forecast to be around 34 degrees Celsius with 69 percent humidity, but rain is forecast, which many in Beijing hope will clear the smog.  
    The Beijing Ministry for Environmental Protection was showing the Chinese Air Pollution Index (API) on Tuesday as between API 51 and 71. This figure is valid up until 1200 local (0300 GMT) to the present day. This range counts as a “blue sky day”.
    Beijing could restrict more cars and shut more factories if air pollution persists during the Olympic Games, a report said on Monday, as an environmental group said endurance athletes could face problems.
    The authorities have ordered many cars off roads and halted much construction and factory production in an effort to cut smog before the Games open on August 8. But the city has still endured hazy skies over the past week, and again on Monday (July 28), raising fears that the sultry heat Beijing often experiences in August could make for a cocktail of haze, fumes and dust for tens of thousands of athletes and visitors.
    An official newspaper indicated authorities may take more drastic steps to choke off pollution.
    “More vehicles could go off the roads and all construction sites and some more factories in Beijing and its neighbouring areas could be closed temporarily if the capital’s air quality deteriorates during the Olympic Games,” the China Daily said.
    Pollution has been one of the biggest worries for Games organisers who have said they may reschedule endurance events to prevent health risks to athletes.
    The environmental group Greenpeace mixed praise for Beijing Olympic organisers’ energy- and water-saving efforts with warnings that air pollution, especially particulate matter, remains a long-term problem.
    Beijing’s measures of PM10 — particulate matter 10 microns in diameter, about a seventh the thickness of a human hair — have consistently stayed above Chinese national standards and stricter World Health Organisation (WHO) standards, Greenpeace said in an assessment of the Beijing Games. 
    Cars are now banned on alternate days depending on their licence plate number — odd or even — and many government cars have been ordered off the roads. Taxis, buses and Olympic vehicles are exempt. Around Beijing, heavily polluting factories, such as steel plants, have also been closed.
see the latest smogwatch video from around the Olympic Green here

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