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Beijing Air

haze over Beijing\'s \This photo of Beijing’s “Bird’s Nest” athletics arena newly constructed for the Olympic games. (By Greg Baker — Associated Press)

Having run the Beijing Marathon in 2006, I can attest to the fact that the concern over Beijing’s breathability is not exaggerated. However, I do believe that China’s government will do anything and everything possible to clean up the air and the environment during the Olympics. These changes will likely be draconian, transient, and probably not be sustainable.

The following is an excerpt from an article By Jill Drew and Maureen Fan of the Washington Post Foreign Service Monday April 21, 2008; page A01.

“The Olympics have been used both within China and internationally as an urgent prod to clean up pollution. “Deliver Clean Energy Towards a Harmonious World,” declares a giant billboard in downtown Beijing.

China has spent about $20 billion over the past decade to clean up Beijing’s air, government media have reported. Du Shaozhong, deputy director of Beijing’s Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau, said the government has shut down 200 heavily polluting factories since 1998. Another 19 heavy polluters will be forced to reduce emissions between now and the Aug. 8 start of the Games. Work must stop on construction sites starting July 20, Du said, and Beijing has warned motorists that sometime this summer private cars will be allowed on the road only on alternating days.

China had pledged that by 2008, measurements of carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide would meet World Health Organization standards and airborne particle density would be reduced to the level of major cities in developed countries. But the IOC said last month that Beijing had so far met only WHO 2005 interim guidelines, which are significantly less restrictive.

“Official data during the Aug. 8 to Aug. 24 Olympic period indicates air quality was actually worse in 2006 and 2007 than in 2000 and 2001,” Steven Q. Andrews, an independent environmental consultant, said in an e-mail interview. His analysis of August 2007 data found that Beijing’s air registered 123 micrograms of particulate matter per cubic meter, more than double the WHO guideline of 50 micrograms per cubic meter for short-term exposure.

Du said there are contingency plans to take more stringent steps if needed to improve air quality during the Games. “We will do everything possible to honor the promise,” he said.”