It is meant to be the Formula One of athletics, the best of the best, but less than one year before China’s prestigious Olympic Games are set so commence, Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said that Beijing’s pollution problems are so severe that that some events may have to be cancelled. The Beijing Olympic organising officials refused to comment. The quality of air is probably the most vital element for the Games and questions are being asked if it will be “fit for purpose”.
On the 19 June 2007 pollution in the city reached an air pollution index (API) of 202, ranking it a grade 4A which; “aggravates symptoms of cardiac and lung disease patients, reduces the endurance during exercise and produces symptoms in healthy crowds.” This is a huge embarrassment for the Chinese authorities who are spending a rumoured £10 billion on the Games.
China won its bid for the 2008 games in part by vowing to put on a "Green Olympics". Officials promised to pour $12.2 billion into cleaning up by reducing atmospheric concentrations of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and carbon monoxide to meet the requirements of the World Health Organization. As this celebration of the one year mark clearly shows, a lot of work still needs to done.
It’s not for want of trying as officials have been battling to make at least some of that happen. Preparation work has included the closure of Chairman Mao's infamous blast furnaces, streets ripped up to build subway lines and upgraded sewage treatment plants. Tens of millions of trees and pulverized a nearby mountain for fresh soil.
The root of the problem is of course the vast increse in car use and resultant increase in exhaust fumes. Last year, in a pilot scheme, some 800,000 cars were kept off the road for three days, it cut the amount of nitrogen oxide air pollution almost instantly by about 40 percent, scientists reported. This month, Beijing is planning to ban a million cars from the city's streets for two weeks as a further test-run to ensure clean air at next year's Olympics. Fan Yinlong, a city government spokesman said, "The plan has been drawn up and is ready to go," referring to a range of measures planned for Beijing from August 7-20.
Not since Mexico City was controversially selected to host the 1968 Olympics has air quality been called into question. Then it was a problem because of the city's high altitude, 2,300m, which meant that the air contained 30% less oxygen than at sea level. The concerns were justified as the rarefied air proved disastrous to many athletes competing in endurance events.
As an indication of their desperation, the government is already experimenting with fall back plans including firing rockets into the sky to induce rain and hence clear the air.
Let’s hope the rockets are using bio-fuel.
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