July 29, 2008

Beijing’s ‘Sauna Haze’ Won’t Last Through Olympics

Authorities in China said the city's recent sauna-like weather conditions are not expected the last through the upcoming Summer Olympic games, which begin August 8.

However, according to state media reports, organizers are still considering further pollution controls for the Olympic host city. 

As of Tuesday morning, Beijing's skies remained grey, but an overnight breeze had dispersed some of the haze that has Olympic organizers concerned that current industry and vehicle restrictions may not be adequate to stem pollution.  And officials have considered further pollution controls in addition to those that keep nearly half the city's 3.3 million cars off the roads and close many of the area's factories and plants.

However, in the overseas edition of the People's Daily, the Beijing Meteorological Bureau's climate center director, Guo Wenli, said that historic weather patterns showed that the "sauna" weather conditions of July will not persist throughout the Games.

"During the Beijing Olympics, the weather won't be the worst compared to the same period historically, and there won't occur the kind of sustained 'sauna fog' of late," Guo told the People's Daily.

The Beijing Meteorological Bureau is forecasting possible showers and light breezes on Tuesday, conditions that should help lighten the haze.

Beijing's chronic pollution includes an pungent mix of vehicle exhaust, construction dust and fumes from factories and power plants.  It has been a critical concern for Games organizers.

Many athletes have delayed their arrival in Beijing until the last minute to avoid the bad air, and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has said it may need to reschedule endurance events such as the marathon if pollution is bad to prevent health risks to athletes.

Monitors of the city's pollution reported Grade II air quality on Monday, qualifying it as a "blue sky day" despite the grey haze.  Particulate matter was the main pollutant. Nevertheless, city officials have identified further pollution controls should the air remain too polluted.

Cars in Beijing are currently banned from roads on alternate days according to their license plate number, and many official government vehicles have been banned from the roads altogether.  Buses, taxis Olympic vehicles are exempt from the ban.  Heavily polluting factories, such as steel plants, near the city have also been closed.

Hong Kong, host to the Olympic equestrian events, suffered its worst air pollution ever recorded on Monday amid soaring high temperatures. 

But Canadian team leader Michael Gallagher said he had no concerns.

"We have noticed the haze," he told the South China Morning Post.

"But it's not black like it is in Beijing."


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