Cleanup deadline issued in countdown to Olympics

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 April, 2008, 12:00am

Polluting factories have until July 20 to close or cut output

Beijing issued a long-awaited cleanup deadline yesterday to the city's heavy industries and countless construction sites - telling them to shut down or restrain production, to rid the capital of its notorious pollution for the Olympics.

Nineteen polluting factories were given until July 20 to temporarily close or slash output before the first arrivals at the Olympic Village and the August 8 opening ceremony. They include the Capital Steel Group, the Eastern Chemical Plant of Beijing, Eastern Petrochemical, scores of petrol stations, oil depots and excavators.

But Beijing's 3-million-plus car owners - who fear two months of commuting disruption - were told by Olympic chiefs that they must wait longer for details of the vehicle ban, which is viewed as crucial to making the air safe.

The sweeping measures will last until September 20, three days after the Paralympics end. Enterprises meeting the emergency pollutionreduction targets would be exempt from paying their effluent charge - a form of environmental tax - in compensation, said Du Shaozhong , deputy director of the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau.

'All coal-burning power plants should ... by a further 30 per cent ... cut their emission levels to reach national standards. If they cannot reach this, they will, in principle, be ordered to cease production,' Mr Du said.

Despite the unprecedented war on smog, the summer weather remains a threat. Hot, humid and stagnant air often settles over the city in August, and there are fears that seasonal high winds could sweep the capital during the Games.

Mr Du said even tougher measures would be taken 'in case of extremely negative meteorological conditions'. They include asking more companies to shut down, in an effort to make the Games safe.

Five provinces and municipalities surrounding Beijing will also be closing factories, although plans have not been released. They are Tianjin city ; Hebei , Shanxi and Shandong provinces, and Inner Mongolia .

When asked about claims that the government's environmental chiefs were making exaggerated claims of a successful cleanup, Mr Du responded emotionally.

He begged the world to believe that Beijing was becoming cleaner by the day - and would continue to do so long after the Olympics had ended.

'So many people don't understand the air quality improvements in Beijing,' he said. 'Last February, I asked the press to tell everybody about the air quality - especially from your personal experiences - so they have a clear and truthful idea of the improvements.'

There is no doubt the air quality has improved dramatically. But even as Mr Du was speaking, smog hung over one of the world's most polluted cities on one of the hottest days of the year so far. The International Olympic Committee will use its own air monitors, and says it will cancel some endurance events if the smog persists in August - which would be much to Beijing's embarrassment.

Given the measures being taken, Mr Du said he was 100 per cent confident the Olympics would be safe.