Thick smog choking Beijing this week has renewed fears that China's effort to clear its notorious air pollution ahead of the Olympics next month will fall short.
Excessive heat has ushered in oppressive smog and haze, and China's weather service predicts cooler conditions by Aug. 8, when the opening ceremony is to take place. But heat alone doesn't create smog. Emissions from tailpipes and smokestacks are the other key ingredient.
The city has more than 3 million cars, and China's awe-inspiring economic expansion has centered on Beijing, where landmark skyscrapers are being built at a feverish pace. China has restricted vehicle usage, expanded its public transportation network, shut down some of the most highly polluting factories, like steel mills, and restricted construction activities during the Games. But will it be enough?
Hong Kong, which will host the equestrian events, had its worst air pollution ever recorded Monday, according to Reuters.
Smog's insidious ability to damage the lungs and heart is well documented. In the United States, environmental groups have continuously fought to tighten air quality standards in order to protect those who perform strenuous activities outdoors, or who are most susceptible to air pollution's ill effects. People with pre-existing lung ailments, like asthma, are most at risk on hot, sunny days.
Olympians, who have been training to maximize their exertion in an event of a lifetime, are no less at risk, according to experts quoted by the Toronto Star. Australian athletes have been told to pull out of events if they feel their health is threatened by smoggy conditions.
If conditions don't improve, Beijing could impose even more restrictive controls that would remove 90% of the cars from the road, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The task is huge, considering that pollution can be so bad in China that it drifts all the way across the Pacific Ocean, and affects California.
Photo: China dust storm / NASA Earth Observatory
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