Beijing, the Olympic Games host city, has reduced its pollution level after years of efforts. Its sulphurdioxode SO2 emission and Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD) both have gone down, authorities claim, but independent observers dispute the claim.
Since coal and petroleum often contain sulfur compounds, their combustion generates sulfur dioxide and it is a major air pollutant. Chemical Oxygen Demand refers to the total measurement of all chemicals in the water that can be oxidized and another pollution level indicator.
AdvertisementBy these measures, Beijing's air quality has improved is what the authorities say.
Only a few days ago it was announced that industrial port of Tianjin, 70 miles east of Beijing, had ordered 40 factories to suspend some operations at the end of the month as part of an effort to improve air quality during the games and the Paralympics competition that follows.
Beijing's air quality remains a major concern for the games as the city continues to struggle with pollution, despite a $20 billion government cleanup campaign. Beijing is also a victim of its neighborhood: Pollution blows in from surrounding regions that are dotted with coal mines, steel mills, cement factories and other heavy industry.
The Olympics' opening ceremony is Aug. 8, and meteorologists have said factories must begin closing a few weeks beforehand. The shutdowns in Tianjin will be from July 25 to Sept. 30, after the end of the Paralympics, according to the state-run news agency Xinhua. Tianjin is a host city for the Olympic soccer competition.
When Beijing bid for the Olympics in 2001, it said that its air would meet World Health Organization standards.
The BBC put this to the test using a hand-held detector to test for airborne particles known as PM10.
And it found that the city's air failed to meet the WHO's air quality guidelines for PM10 on six days out of seven.
These particles are caused by traffic, construction work and factory emissions. They are responsible for much of this city's pollution.
On one of these days, the pollution reading was seven times over the WHO's air quality guideline.
By comparison, recent readings done in London - the site of the 2012 Games - all fall within the WHO's guidelines.
But Beijing insists that there is still time to get things right.
In March last the International Olympic Committee's Medical Commission had warned that some athletes might be at risk if they compete in outdoor endurance events in Beijing.
Outdoor endurance events refer to sports that include minimum one hour continuous physical efforts at high level like urban road cycling, mountain bike, marathon, marathon swimming, triathlon and road walk.
Medical Commission Chairman Arne Ljungqvist said, "As with all Olympic Games, we want to ensure that air quality risks are mitigated and that measures are put into place to protect the health of the athletes.
"The procedure will include daily monitoring of air quality and weather conditions at the venue, a reporting process from the Beijing Environment Protection Bureau to the IOC and relevant sports federation, and a joint IOC-sports federation decision to postpone the event if necessary," he said.
He said that air quality could reduce the potential for world records and peak performances in all sports
"It may be that some events will not be conducted under optimal conditions - which is the reality of sports competitions - and that we may not see records broken in Beijing. However, the Games are more about competing in the Olympic spirit, than about breaking records," said Ljungqvist.
The IOC Medical Commission has been analyzing a set of data, including temperature, wind, humidity and concentrations of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, ground-level ozone and particulate matter, PM10 readings.
Graham Webster, writing on CNET said - "Despite advertised measures to decrease pollution, as we approach the one month countdown to the Beijing Olympics, the government's numbers rank Beijing as having the dirtiest air in China.
"With a rating of 98, officially a "blue sky day" but only by two points, Beijing yesterday had the dirtiest air among monitored cities according to the Chinese government website that releases daily pollution figures.
"Only four other cities, including the capitals of Sichuan, Qinghai, and Liaoning Provinces, ranked above 90 on the scale.
"This does not mean that the air will not get cleaner this month. Large numbers of personal vehicles, as well as cargo trucks that do not have Beijing license plates, will be taken off the roads in efforts to reduce car pollution. Additionally, the hyperactive construction with huge numbers of buildings scheduled for completion or undergoing rushed renovation before the Games will stop completely late this month when a city-wide construction freeze goes into effect.
"The government is planning drastic measures. I hope for the sake of the athletes, visitors, and Beijing residents that they have clear, clean skies..."