China Environmental News Digest

Daily updated Environmental news related to China

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Olympians face tough opponent: pollution

By Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent
WASHINGTON, Feb 27 (Reuters) - Eat an orange. Wear a face mask. Train elsewhere and fly in at the last possible moment to compete.
These are some of the strategies suggested for Olympic athletes planning to compete in Beijing, where a thick cloud of smog often blankets one of the world's most polluted cities.
"There really isn't anything specific you can do to acclimate to substandard air quality," said Darryl Seibel of the U.S. Olympic Committee. "From a training point of view, there's nothing we've found that an athlete can do without risking their health and well-being."
The U.S. teams expect Beijing's air to reach a "safe and suitable standard for elite competition," Seibel said in a telephone interview from Colorado Springs, Colorado, home of the U.S. Olympic Training Center.
He did not think athletes would need to wear activated carbon filtration masks, as U.S. coaches advised in a newsletter article in 2006, and as U.S. triathletes did on a visit to China last year.
But he did not rule anything out.
"Until we arrive at the games in August, there's no way to predict what the air quality will be."
It is likely to be hot and humid. The average August temperature in Beijing is 85.1 degrees F (29.5C), with relative humidity of 69 percent. This combination puts Beijing's heat index in the "caution" range, U.S. sports officials have said.
But August is also likely to be rainy, and that could cut down on sooty particles in the air.
Beijing has poured 120 billion yuan ($16.8 billion) into clearing the smog, for a Games many of its leaders see as a coming-out party to mark China's rise as a major world power.
"The air quality is much better now," said Gao, a 77-year-old Beijing resident. "When I came to Beijing 50 years ago, I could not even open my eyes when walking on those dirt roads in the coal-burning neighbourhood," she said.
Officials reportedly plan to keep half of Beijing's 3 million cars off the roads during the Games, which begin August 8. Authorities have also ordered Beijing and five surrounding provinces to cut industrial pollution for two months from late July.
International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge has warned that some endurance events -- where athletes will be exposed to the air for long periods -- could be rescheduled if air pollution presents a danger.
But he has also said environmental challenges are not new to the Games, citing the heat in Athens in 2004, and air pollution in Seoul in 1988 and Los Angeles in 1984. All three cities tackled the problems before the Games, building trams, shutting factories or asking drivers to stay off the roads.
Nonetheless this year, at least seven countries plan to send some of their Olympic athletes to Japan just before the Games begin, drawn by international-standard sports facilities and accommodation and healthy food, as well as cleaner air and a mere one-hour time difference between Japan and China.
Germany, Greece, the United States, France, Britain, Sweden and the Netherlands are among those training in Japan.
Some 55 German athletes plan to stay in Ashibetsu on the island of Hokkaido for pre-Olympic training, spending four or five days in Ashibetsu and leaving for Beijing about three days before their competitive events, according to an official at sports division of Ashibetsu city hall.
Another 70 to 80 German athletes will stay at Shibetsu, about two hours away, the official said.
"We hope to host a welcoming beer party when the biggest number of athletes are here," the official said. "The German team has not made any major request. They just asked (the hotel) not to serve raw fish."
Italy's Stefano Baldini, the 2004 Olympic marathon gold medallist, said Beijing's smog would be a problem.
"Having to breathe in pollution while running is bound to affect performances," Baldini told Reuters in a telephone interview in January. "But I hope the situation will improve between now and August."
German-born Josefa Idem, who won the gold medal for Italy in the 500 meter individual kayak event at the 2000 Sydney summer Games, will be competing in her seventh Olympics in Beijing.
Her event will be held some 37 miles (60 km) from Beijing.
"I'm very sorry for the Chinese people who have to live in unhealthy environmental conditions," Idem told Reuters. "If it has an effect on the sporting field, it will be the same for all of the athletes."
This pragmatic view is echoed by some Beijing residents.
"We cannot attribute all the reasons to air pollution if those foreign athletes don't perform well. It doesn't matter if they have the strength to win," said Zhang, 39, who has worked as a street sweeper in Beijing for 23 years.
Andreu Alfonso, technical director of the Spanish triathlon team, told sports daily Marca that the team would acclimatize in South Korea and travel to China four days before the event.
"The last time we were in Beijing we were frankly amazed at the levels of pollution," Alfonso was quoted as saying in the newspaper. "In low intensity training the problem wasn't so great, but it was really noticeable in the quality sessions."
"We are introducing extra rations of vitamin C and E through things like grapefruit and oranges into the diets for the riders because they are anti-oxidants and can help improve breathing," Mikel Zabala, technical director of the Spanish Cycling Federation, told Marca.
"We have thought about wearing masks if necessary and I expect we will take them. I think the pollution will take its toll especially on sportsmen that have respiratory problems," Zabala said.
For some athletes who already train in a polluted city, Beijing could present some advantages.
"It will benefit us, because if we are talking about toxic surroundings ... we are training in the right place," said Jorge Nunez, technical manager of the Chile Olympic Committee. Chile's capital Santiago, where Olympic athletes are training, is one of Latin America's most polluted cities.
"We won't be in a situation that different (from where we live) so we don't require special preparation," Nunez said.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

China in Olympics pollution drive

By Shirong Chen BBC News
The Temple of Heaven in Beijing
Air quality is a major concern for organisers of the Olympics
China has announced unprecedented measures to cut air pollution during this year's Olympic Games.

Starting this weekend, a new standard for car emissions will come into force in Beijing.

Some areas surrounding the capital have also joined in efforts to help reduce air pollution.

China has pledged Beijing's air quality will be up to the standard laid down by the World Health Organisation during the Games in August.

However, the air is still too dirty. One of the four indicators - the density of breathable particles in the air - is still too high.

To cut pollution, a new standard for car emissions will be enforced from 1 March, falling in line with the latest European Union standard.

A new type of less-polluting petrol will be available too.

Cars and buses that fail the checks will be banned from the streets.

More than 1,300 petrol stations in Beijing are being upgraded to cut fumes and the rest will be shut down.

In addition, the Chinese authorities have ordered five provinces around Beijing to join the efforts and reduce industrial activity for two months before the Games.

The measures cover the neighbouring city of Tianjin, Shandong province to the east, and the vast region of Inner Mongolia to the west.

From July both Beijing and Tianjin will restrict private car use, allowing only odd or even registration numbers to go out on any given day.

China hopes such drastic measures can reassure foreign delegations that there will be no heavy pollution to harm their athletes.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

China´s environment watchdog announces green insurance system


Source: | 02-25-2008 09:09

The national environment watchdog says it's introducing a green insurance system to improve monitoring of polluting industries and help victims get immediate compensation. This latest initiative follows the Green Credit Measure adopted last summer.

Rapid economic development has also created a high incidence of environmental pollution accidents. Last year, over 100 environmental emergencies were reported.

The system aims to have all industries with pollution risks insured with insurance companies. According to the State Environmental Protection Administration, the system will be implemented nationwide by 2015 after a trial period.

Bie Tao, deputy director of Policies & regulations Dept, SEPA, said,"The higher the risk of causing serious pollution, the more money an enterprise needs to pay for the insurance. The premium could bankrupt an enterprise."

The system will be tried out this year in companies that produce, sell, store, transport or use high-risk chemical products, the petrochemical industry and dangerous waste disposal enterprises that are prone to serious pollution accidents. Enterprises and industries that have caused serious pollution accidents in recent years will be especially targeted.

At the moment, if a serious environmental incident happens, the company responsible usually resorts to bankruptcy to avoid paying the huge amount of compensation and pollution control expenses.

Bie Tao said, "There's no mechanism to ensure that enterprise fulfill their responsibility to compensate victims and restore the environment after an incident. This situation where enterprises make profits and society pays the cost of cleaning up will not continue."

Rapid economic development has also created a high incidence of environmental pollution accidents. Last year, over 100 environmental emergencies were reported.

SEPA's figures show that over eighty percent of the country's 7,500 big chemical projects are in densely-populated areas or next to rivers.