BEIJING, China, August 9, 2008 (ENS) - Inside the Bird's Nest, last night's opening ceremony for the Beijing Olympic Games was brilliant, but outside the air quality was not. Despite years of effort by the Chinese government to eliminate sources of air pollution, and the statements of public officials to the contrary - a pall of haze and smog hangs over the city in the sticky, steamy air.
At a news conference regarding the city's air quality Friday at Beijing's Main Press Center, Du Shaozhong, deputy director and spokesman of Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau, said "the overall emission of the pollutants in Beijing has remarkably decreased."
"Actually in the summer in Beijing, we have sunny days, cloudy days and hazy days as well in Beijing," said Du. "Since people are paying very much attention on the air quality, you must also pay attention on pollutions emission reduction. Ever since July, we adopted temporary emission reduction measures in Beijing. We have every reason to say that today the emission reduction is very much lower than the ordinary level in Beijing."
"Over nine years," said Du, "Beijing Municipal Government has taken 13 stages of steps and more than 200 measures to reduce the pollutant emission from the motor vehicles, coal fire units, construction sites and the industrial pollution sites."
"Through the efforts during these years," he said, "the days meeting the relevant standard has increased from 100 to 246 days."
"Since July 1, measures to improve air quality conditions have been implemented, including the specific traffic control for the motor vehicles, shut down the heavily polluting industries and construction sites," said Du. "With these efforts, the emission was greatly reduced by 30 percent."
"Air quality during the Games is good enough," Du said.
According to Beijing's official figures, the Air Pollution Index across the city was measured at 96 on August 7. This figure is below the 101 the Chinese authorities consider unsafe, but nearly double the World Health Organization safety limit of 50.
International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge said Thursday in Beijing that while he prefers clear skies for the Olympic Games, he sees no danger to the athletes' health.
"We must make a distinction between fog and pollution," said Rogge. "The fog you see is based on humidity and heat. There can be pollution, but the fog is not necessarily pollution."
U.S. cyclist Mike Friedman and three other cyclists on the U.S. Olympic Team caused a stir by exiting the airplane in Beijing wearing protective masks over their noses and mouths.
They were among about 200 U.S. athletes of the 596 on the American team who were issued the masks by the U.S. Olympic organizers to guard them against air pollution.
The four athletes have penned an apology to the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee, but on his personal blog Friedman was unrepentent yet courteous.
"I am only doing what I perceive as best for my health and upcoming competition," Friedman wrote. "I, nor any of the other athletes involved were attempting to make a political statement of any sort. We meant no offense to the great host the Chinese have been and all appreciate the hard work and devotion they've displayed to provide this venue."
"Everyone is entitled to their opinions," wrote Friedman. "I will continue to wear my mask where I deem fit. It's my life and health in the long run, and I would never do something that would purposefully or intently harm the best interest or the public view of either my Country or other Countries in attendance."
He admits it was "poor timing" on the U.S. athletes' part to wear the masks as they got off the plane, but said," If this had been a city in the US with any significant pollution level that might interfere with athletic performance, I would have done the same thing."
"Also, keep in mind that it's not just "pollution" we are worried about, but also getting sick. All the the athletes here are in peak form, and everyone is susceptible to getting easily sick," Friedman wrote. "It's just a precautionary measure for the best performance come game day."
In Hong Kong, where the first Olympic equestrian events are taking place on Saturday, a storm that blew through earlier this week has cleared the smog that often obscures the city.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.