China Environmental News Digest

Daily updated Environmental news related to China

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Blowing in the wind: Pollution in Beijing

Face-saving begins as Chinese official says it's fog not smog

Last Updated: Monday, July 28, 2008 | 6:55 PM ET Comments1Recommend6

A Chinese policeman stands guard on the Tiananmen Square on July 28, 2008 in Beijing, China. A Chinese policeman stands guard on the Tiananmen Square on July 28, 2008 in Beijing, China. (Andrew Wong/Getty Images)

When Canadian athletes follow flag-bearer Adam van Koeverden into the Bird’s Nest in Beijing on Aug. 8, the Canadian athletics team will not be part of the crowd. The team will be preparing in Singapore in an effort to avoid the crowds, and disturbingly, the cloud of smog that envelopes Beijing.

The citizens awoke on Monday morning to a cloud of smog, despite the recent introduction of draconian pollution-control plans. But with a little more than one week before they play host to the world, organizers are planning last-minute emergency measures.

According to the China Daily, all construction sites and a larger number of factories could be temporarily shut down, and increased traffic restrictions could be introduced.

"The air quality in August will be good," Du Shaozhong, deputy director of the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau, told reporters on Sunday.

Haze blamed on fog

He blamed the haze on fog and light winds that failed to clear the pollution. "Our job is to decrease the pollution as much as possible, but sometimes it is very common to have fog in Beijing at this time."

On July 20, the city launched a plan to have cars with even and odd license plates run on opposite days. The city has also tightened emission standards, closed factories and built new public transportation systems.

More than 250 high-emitting companies north of the city were ordered shut down earlier this month.

Despite some progress, Sunday was one of the smoggiest days the city has seen in the past month, and visibility was less than a kilometre.

The same conditions during the Games could lead to the postponement of endurance events such as the marathon and triathlon due to poor air quality during the Games, as IOC president Jacques Rogge has threatened.

The problem of wind

Regardless of measures, organizers are still victims to the wind. Strong enough wind can blow pollution from thousands of kilometres away, but a lack of it will cause a build-up of smog in the air.

Veerabhadran Ramanathan, an atmospheric scientist at the University of California in San Diego, is leading a team of scientists studying the impact of emission reduction measures in the city.

"There's only so much you can do with local emission reduction," he says. "You're basically at the mercy of the winds."

Experts say that while emergency measures may reduce the smog, there is no guarantee of clear air.

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