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Worry over Beijing's air quality

28th July 2008

Health experts are growing increasingly concerned at the quality of Beijing's air, as the world's top athletes gear up for the 2008 Olympic Games.

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Next month, athletes from around the world converge on the Chinese capital, preparing to push their bodies to the limit for a place in the history books.

But experts are concerned that thick soot and smog, dangerous levels of ozone and low-ranking air quality will affect the athletes' performance, and possibly even their short-term health.

Bob Lanier, an allergy and asthma specialist who visits Beijing several times a year, said living in the city was like living on a huge building site.

He said the immediately visible air pollution would cause concern among athletes as they stepped off the plane in Beijing.

Australian athletes will withdraw from the opening ceremony of the Games, with teams remaining at training camps in Japan in Hong Kong before it was time for them to compete.

Lanier, a foreign expert at the Peking Union Medical College, describes the air quality in Beijing in past years as "terrible". But now, he says it's "no so bad".

He said he would prefer to hold the Games in Beijing to Los Angeles, for example.

According to the World Bank, China is home to 16 of the 20 most air-polluted cities on Earth.

Satellite imagery from the European Space Agency has revealed the world's highest levels of nitrogen dioxide, a substance poisonous to the lungs, in and around the Chinese capital.

However, the Chinese authorities have spared no effort to try to ensure that the day of the Games dawns fair and clear.

Officials have banned construction sites from operation, and have already begun to slap strict limits on the flow of traffic in and out of the city.

But experts say these moves will not eliminate pollution which is already floating around in the air.

According to American Lung Association president Alfred Munzer, the effects of air pollution are increased tenfold as the body respires at 10 times the resting rates, increasing the exposure to air pollution.

Munzer said such pollution would have a severe effect on the respiratory tract, and on healthy athletes.

Masks, he said, would be of no use, as some of the most dangerous pollutants were gases, offering little hope of protection, except perhaps to arrange the most strenuous competitions early in the morning.

But some athletes said they expect the heat and humidity to present more of a problem than air pollution. Others said they had competed in China before with no ill effects, and were more concerned with their training and preparation.

 

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