Smog tarnishes 'gold standard' for Olympics

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 July, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 July, 2008, 12:00am

Games chiefs hail Beijing's preparations, but admit air quality is still an issue

The International Olympic Committee gave Beijing a final stamp of approval yesterday - but its 'gold standard' accolade failed to sparkle in the smog-bound capital.

The Olympics chiefs, making their final inspection of the host city before the Games begin on August 8, said they had underlying confidence the event would be a success.

'Here in the Chinese capital you can now really sense the excitement and anticipation. The quality of preparation, the readiness of the venues and the attention to operational detail for these Games have set a gold standard for the future,' Hein Verbruggen, chairman of the IOC's co-ordination commission, concluded at the end of a two-day meeting with the Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (Bocog).

But as Mr Verbruggen gave his last glowing report card, flanked by Bocog president Liu Qi , during the opening of the main press and international broadcast centres for the Games, the Olympic Village around them, and its iconic stadiums, were veiled in smog.

'A very small number of open issues remain, such as ... our need to see how temporary measures in the city will make an impact on air quality,' Mr Verbruggen admitted.

Beijing has repeatedly promised to meet Chinese and pre-2005 World Health Organisation (WHO) air standards in time for the Games.

Big steps to clear the skies will be taken on July 20. Dozens of industrial plants in the capital and half a dozen surrounding provinces will shut down and 2 million cars and trucks will be barred from Beijing streets.

For the capital's population of 16 million, the temporary curbs on emissions of pollutants can't come soon enough.

Sunday's rare blue skies and sunshine were quickly forgotten as pollution shrouded the city on Monday.

China's air pollution standards differ from those of the WHO, and the gathering of data such as measurements of PM10 - particulates of 10 microns or more, in other words the dust from vehicle exhausts, construction sites and factory chimneys - has drawn much international criticism.

The Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau said yesterday's daytime PM10 reading was 98, which it rates 'slightly polluted to fair'.

However, to the WHO, 98 is at the low end of the scale of acceptable air quality. Its 'safe' standard is 50.

Jacques Rogge, the IOC president, has said outdoor endurance events will be postponed if the air is bad.

The IOC has confirmed that the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau will collect all data used to assess air quality, and spokesman Kevan Gosper said rescheduling would be done in consultation with Bocog and would 'be a joint decision'.

'We will not overrule Bocog [on pollution concerns],' he said.

Summing up his report, Mr Verbruggen said of Beijing's breakneck US$40 billion Olympic makeover: 'Now it is operation time. And that means we will have to deliver to all stakeholders ... what was pledged.'

Clouded picture

The PM10 level, a measure of airborne dust, in Beijing yesterday: 98

The level the World Health Organisation considers safe: 50