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  Yahoo News 6 Aug 07
Amid smog, Beijing says it is winning war on pollution
by Charles Whelan

Yahoo News 6 Aug 07
Beijing pollution to cast pall over olympic performance
by Richard Ingham

Yahoo News 5 Aug 07
Disagreements cloud Hong Kong's blue skies
by Stephanie Wong

As Hong Kong basks in one of its finest summers for nearly a decade, the government and environmentalists are at loggerheads over the reason for the clear blue skies residents of this usually smog-ridden city are enjoying.

Air quality in Hong Kong has taken a dramatic turn for the better this year. Official figures show the number of low-pollution days between May and July is up more than 70 percent on 2006, with air quality better than at any time since 1999.

The conditions are in stark contrast with Beijing, where a thick blanket of haze has at times reduced visibility to just a few hundred metres (yards) in recent weeks.

The Hong Kong government believes it should get the credit for the transformation, citing the efforts it has made to reduce air pollution levels in the city. "Apart from the weather factor, the measures implemented over the past years have also had a positive impact on our air quality," said a spokeswoman at the Environmental Protection Department.

Hong Kong authorities have introduced a series of measures to combat pollution, which business groups warn is deterring investment and tourism and making expatriates think twice about coming here.

Diesel taxis and mini-buses are being replaced with vehicles that run on cleaner liquefied petroleum gas, and the government has tightened emissions caps on power plants.

But environmentalists say emission reduction targets are too low, and air pollution figures are not telling the real story because the danger limits are set much higher than those of the World Health Organisation.

They believe it was too early for the government to claim it has beaten the smog.

Alexis Lau, an atmospheric scientist from the University of Science and Technology, attributed the improved air quality to the stable winds and lack of typhoons in the region. Typhoons are common in Hong Kong at this time of year. "The wind is much more steady this summer," he said, adding that the approach of a typhoon often makes the air more stagnant, reducing the dispersal of pollutants.

Edwin Lau, assistant director of Friends of the Earth Hong Kong, also said recent weather conditions were the likely reason for the clear skies. "The prevailing wind effect is a major factor for the clear days because (when) the wind blows to the north, the bad air from the China factories doesn't come this way," he said.

"The government shouldn't reach this conclusion so quickly. If this situation lasts until spring and autumn, the government can then boast about their strategies," he added.

Hong Kong's skies are generally clearer in summer than in winter, as the oceanic air stream blowing from the south brings cleaner air and disperses pollutants.

On the mainland, it is a different story -- Beijing suffered its worst air pollution for June in seven years and many residents of the city said pollution was the worst in recent memory.

The growing problem is blamed on the staggering growth in the number of cars in the Chinese capital -- 1,200 vehicles are added daily. And the forced closure of the city's most polluting factories has not proved enough to solve the problem.

The Hong Kong government has been quick to blame the mainland for the city's pollution woes, attributing them to emissions produced by factories in the neighbouring Pearl River Delta region of southern China, many of them Hong Kong-owned.

But local academics and environmentalists dispute this, blaming local vehicles, marine traffic and power plants.

Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang has said tackling pollution will be one of his top priorities, and Edwin Lau looks forward to the days when clear blue days are a more frequent sight. "The clean sky reminds me of the Hong Kong I remember 20 years ago. You can look miles into the distance, you can see the shape of the mountains. Hong Kong can be such a beautiful place," he said. "The government has the responsibility to keep the skies clean, put in the right strategies, keep up their efforts and don't be complacent."

Yahoo News 6 Aug 07
Beijing pollution to cast pall over olympic performance
by Richard Ingham

Smog is spreading a toxic haze over hopes that the 2008 Beijing Olympics will be as superlative in sporting achievement as it will be in spending and glitz.

A miasma of ground-level ozone, fine dust and volatile organic compounds, spewed from factory chimneys and the tailpipes of cars on Beijing's congested roads, make the Chinese capital one of the world's dirtiest cities.

Experts in sports medicine say that, unless a massively expensive cleanup works, air pollution will cloud prospects for record-breaking in many disciplines. Ozone at ground level irritates the airways, while fine particulate matter can lodge deep inside the lungs. The result can be asthma attacks, bronchitis and impaired lung efficiency that, when combined to Beijing's traditionally high heat and humidity levels in August, are bound to wreak a toll.

"Impairment in performance will particularly affect endurance type of activities, such as long-distance runners, cycling, swimming, anything that lasts very long," says Marco Cardinale, head of research at the British Olympic Association. "These athletes have high ventilation rates and high ventilation volumes, so they are exposing their lungs to more pollution -- and over a longer time."

Andrew Pipe, a professor at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute and chief medical officer to the Canadian team at the 1992 Barcelona Games, says Beijing's pollution has been the big buzz among national Olympic organisations over the past year.

Specialists have been closely monitoring sporting events that have been held in Beijing, particularly the 2006 International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) junior championships, seen as a testbed for Olympic problems.

The event was held in August, the same month as the Olympics, and some athletes said pollution levels may have hurt their performances. Those most affected were those who competed later in the day when levels of ozone -- caused by the reaction between sunlight and exhaust gases -- typically peak.

What can be done to help the 10,000 athletes heading for the Games?

Very little can be done in advance, says Pipe. Coaches are well-versed in training athletes to acclimatise to heat and humidity by using specialised indoor facilities at home and then sending them to the host country way ahead of the event.

But replicating Beijing's sick atmosphere is technically impossible and of course hazardous to the athlete. As a result, the only real option is to limit exposure by arriving late, living in filtered air and dishing out face masks.

"Are we confident that the authorities will be able to address the respiratory problems up there? No, we are not," Australian Olympic Committee President John Coates said in May.

"We have had athletes up there who have experienced significant problems."

Australia's 500-plus athletes will be urged to complete their training at home or elsewere in Asia, and arrive in Bejing a matter of days before their competition. An asthma specialist will be part of its 50-strong medical team. A similar tack is being taken by Britain, whose swimmers will prepare in Osaka, Japan, rather than in Beijing.

"Normally, for an Olympics, we would arrive in the host city 10 days in advance. But for Beijing, we won't arrive till three days before," Britain's Olympic swimming chief, Bill Sweetenham, told AFP.

Armed with more than 15 billion dollars for pollution control, Beijing is working frantically to meet the "green games" pledge it made back in 2001.

It has vowed that three pollutants (sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide) will be brought to within acceptable limits set by UN World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines. The density of particulate matter "will reach the level of major cities in developed countries," according to the pledge on Games website (http://en.beijing2008.cn/10/93/article211929310.shtml).

City officials are closing down central power plants, converted coal-burning ones to gas-fired and forcing a big steelmaker to relocate hundreds of kilometers (miles) away. They are also looking at banning cars from wide areas of Beijing and closing factories during the Games themselves.

Past Olympics -- notably in Los Angeles in 1984, Seoul in 1988 and Athens in 2004 -- were also preceded by smog scares but schemes to suppress traffic, using voluntary or restrictive measures, were effective.

"Few major issues (arose) during their Games," notes Kenneth Rundell, professor of health science and director of the Human Performance Lab at Marywood University, Pennsylvania.

Data about how the cleanup is progressing is sketchy and open to question. Dust storms from the Gobi Desert provide another unknown.

But some experts forecast the toxic soup may defeat local officials, for much of the muck in Beijing's air comes from other regions and explosive economic growth is generating ever more problems.

Hebei and Shandong provinces and the city of Tianjin can on some days account for the majority of Beijing's fine particulate matter and ozone, according to a study by US and Chinese scientists, published last January in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry.

"Controlling only local sources in Beijing will not be sufficient to attain the air quality goal set for the Beijing Olympics," the paper says bluntly.

Yahoo News 6 Aug 07
Amid smog, Beijing says it is winning war on pollution
by Charles Whelan

Olympic officials insisted Monday that they were winning the war against pollution even though Beijing remains shrouded in heavy smog nearly one year out from the start of the 2008 Games.

Kicking off a week of celebrations surrounding Wednesday's one-year countdown to the Games, officials said everything was going well for staging what many anticipate will be one of the best-prepared Games ever.

"All the preparations are on schedule and proceeding smoothly," Wang Wei, an Olympic organising committee (BOCOG) vice president, told a press conference.

However, Beijing's notorious pollution threatens to spoil the one-year countdown party. Bad air quality and traffic congestion have been cited by the International Olympic Committee as its biggest concerns for the Games. Pollution on Monday was typically thick with visibility down to a a few hundred metres (yards).

However, Wang Wei said air quality in Beijing, which has a 15 million population, was rapidly improving. Citing World Health Organisation indicators, Wang said good quality air days increased from 100 in 1998 to 241 in 2006, and serious air pollution days had dropped from 141 to only 24. "So you can see a big improvement here," Wang told a press conference.

Meanwhile, a plan to take one million cars off the road this week to coincide with the one-year countdown in August has been put on hold, Wang said, placing in doubt the much-trumpeted measure for 2008. He said that the organising committee had yet to decide when, and if, to go ahead with the vehicle ban. "We are still discussing this question," he added.

Last month, Beijing officials said that the massive car removal plan -- equivalent to a third of the city's vehicles -- was scheduled to run from August 7-20. That fortnight coincides with the staging of 11 Olympic test events in Beijing, including cycling road races, wrestling, hockey and beach volleyball.

Some of the 10,500 elite athletes expected in Beijing for the Games have already expressed concerns about air quality. Australian competitors and some of Britain's Olympic athletes have said they will stay away from Beijing as long as possible and leave the city as soon as their events are over.

Addressing another area of concern, BOCOG officials reiterated China's opposition to plans by rights groups and activists to use the Games as a platform for campaigns.

"We have already heard a lot of voices from different sides and we are mentally prepared that such voices will become more vocal in the future," Jiang Xiaoyu, another BOCOG vice president, told the press conference. "We absolutely oppose the politicization of the Olympics because this is against the Olympic spirit, and also against the non-discriminatory principle of the Olympic Charter."

China has been widely criticised for its involvement in Sudan, where violence in the African nation's Darfur region has led to hundreds of thousands of deaths. Rights groups are also trying to shine an Olympic spotlight on issues within China, such as curbs on religion and the media, labour rights abuses and Chinese rule of Tibet.

Despite the controversies, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge has said China is on track to stage a "perfect" Games, with construction of venues going to plan.

Rogge will join senior Chinese government officials on Beijing's famous Tiananmen Square on Wednesday to mark the one-year countdown.

Related articles on Singapore: haze
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