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Beijing - shrouded in gloom

By John E. Carey - posted Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Despite six days (as of July 26) of forcing Beijing motorists to drive on alternate days last week, the air pollution index rose from a reading of 55 on Sunday to 110 on Friday. Readings over 100 are considered unhealthy for children, seniors and those with allergies or asthma.

“For the first four days since July 20, they were good days. For the last two days, they were not,” said Du Shaozhong, deputy general director of the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau. “In the last few days there have not been significant rainfalls or winds,” Du said. “And the weather conditions in the last few days were not conducive to the diffusion of airborne pollutants.”

When Beijing bid for the Olympics in 2001 it said its air would meet World Health Organization (WHO) standards.


China’s National Stadium, known as the Bird’s Nest, is seen through pollution in Beijing on Thursday, July 24, 2008. Authorities began strict new measures this week, including taking half of the city’s 3.3 million cars off the road, in an effort aimed at reducing chronic air pollution before the Olympic Games open on August 8. (AP Photo/Greg Baker)

The BBC put this to the test using a hand-held detector to test for airborne particles known as PM10. They found that the city’s air failed to meet the WHO’s air quality guidelines for PM10 on six days out of seven. These particles are caused by traffic, construction work and factory emissions. They are responsible for much of this city’s pollution. On one of these days, the pollution reading was seven times over the WHO’s air quality guideline.

Remember when the air pollution in Los Angeles was so bad that the city seemed shrouded in gloom? That’s Beijing today.

The current weather conditions are acting like a gigantic bowl over the city, holding air pollution in instead of sweeping it out.

Some Olympic-class runners in China for training are heading for home. One told our Hongli Jia, “I would love to have a gold medal. But in this I cannot perform.”


“I wouldn’t expect a world record in the marathon in Beijing,” says Marco Cardinale, a doctor who advises the British Olympic Committee. “The issue isn’t just air quality, but the combination of heat, humidity and bad air.”

Many athletes didn’t come to Beijing to train because of the bad air.

“There is no other reason but to stay out of the pollution. It’s definitely to avoid the air,” said Reed, who if he qualifies will be training with the other US triathletes on South Korea’s Cheju island. “This air [in Beijing] is just so terrible for your body.”

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First published in Peace and Freedom '08.

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About the Author

John E. Carey has been a military analyst for 30 years.

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