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March 13th, 2008:

Gebrselassie Reconsiders Olympic Marathon Snub

‘Gebrselassie Reconsiders Olympic Marathon Snub’

Agence France-Presse in Beijing – Updated on Mar 13, 2008 – SCMP

Ethiopian world record holder Haile Gebrselassie may yet run in the marathon at the Beijing Olympics, but only if organisers agree to move the race away from the city centre.

Earlier this week the 34-year-old, an asthma sufferer, expressed concern that the Chinese capital’s notorious pollution could damage his health and even bring his stellar career to a premature end. His agent Jos Hermans said that he was “99 percent sure” that the legendary athlete would not compete in the marathon for those reasons.

But BBC Sport reported on Thursday that a window of opportunity still existed.

“I do not want to rule anything out at this point,” Gebrselassie was quoted as saying. “This decision is not about me. It is about all athletes who will be competing. Our safety has to be protected.

“If the International Olympic Committee (IOC) makes the decision to switch venues, then I may compete depending on how my training is going. People must understand that this is a sporting decision and no different than what I make for every competition.”

The BBC said the distance runner, who set a new marathon world record in Berlin last year, has reportedly come under pressure from his home supporters in Ethiopia to take part in the race. Gebrselassie stressed that his announcement should not be misconstrued as a snub to China.

“I have nothing against China or their hosting of the Olympics. They are doing a great job,” he said.

The Ethiopian remains confident that he will take part in the Olympic 10,000m — an event he has won twice before, in Atlanta in 1996 and in Sydney in 2000.

“I have planned to compete in the 10,000m, but first I have to qualify for the Ethiopian team. That is not easy,” he said. “I would not have made the decision if I was not confident of my ability. In one way or another, I am going to compete in Beijing.”

The IOC has already voiced concern over distance events at the Olympics in August and has said that the marathons could be called off if the conditions posed a danger to athletes’ health. China insists that pollution will be reduced to acceptable levels during the August 8-24 Games.

Building Sites Ordered To Stop Work In Bid To Improve Games Air Quality

Martin Zhou in Beijing – Updated on Mar 13, 2008 – SCMP

First it was steel mill managers, petrol station operators and motorists. Now it’s the turn of construction project chiefs to feel the impact of Beijing’s massive campaign to clean up the city’s air before the Olympic Games.

Authorities yesterday ordered the capital’s thousands of construction sites, which together cover 100 sq km, to scale down their operations from next Thursday before coming to a complete standstill for two months from July 21, two weeks before the Games open on August 8.

“From March 20 through to July 20, construction sites should cease to carry out any operations which could generate excessive dust, including earthworks, under gusty or sandstorm conditions,” a circular issued by the municipal government said.

The complete ban would be in place for the Olympics and the following Paralympics, which end on September 17.

Aside from exhaust emissions, dust pollution from construction sites is believed to be a major source of particulate matter – solid airborne pollutants.

In Beijing, the concentration of such tiny hazardous particles, which can go deep into the respiratory system and damage lungs, often hovers at levels around three to four times above World Health Organisation safety standards. It remains a sore point in Beijing’s multibillion-yuan cleanup campaign.

Officials argue they have kept the growth of most other major airborne pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, under control by imposing a mixed bag of measures, including cutting back on the output of energy-intensive factories in the suburbs, limiting vehicle use and revamping petrol stations.

Beijing Vice-Mayor Liu Jingmin confirmed that millions of cars would be banned from the roads but did not say how long the ban would last.

“With all such measures in place, I’m fully confident that air quality in Beijing will meet the health standard during the Olympics,” Wu Xiaoqing, a deputy head of the State Environmental Protection Administration, said on the sidelines of the National People’s Congress meeting.

The Ethiopian runner Haile Gebrselassie, a world record holder, announced this week he would not run in the Olympic marathon in Beijing because of concerns over air pollution.

Upgrade Gives Watchdog More Clout In Pollution Fight

Agency’s deputy director lauds advance to full ministry

Shi Jiangtao in Beijing – Updated on Mar 13, 2008 – SCMP

The elevation of the mainland’s environmental watchdog to a full ministry has boosted its power in tackling widespread pollution and local protectionism, which showed little sign of improvement in the past year, a senior environmental official said.

But despite Beijing announcing initial progress in cutting pollution and promoting energy efficiency last week, State Environmental Protection Administration (Sepa) deputy director Wu Xiaoqing admitted that little headway had been made in reversing the country’s worsening ecological degradation.

He attributed the stalled government efforts to cut pollution, a major source of public dissatisfaction and social unrest, to the country’s robust economic growth.

“Environmental woes are a result of the country’s development in the past three decades. And those problems can only be addressed through further economic growth,” he said. “According to our surveys, some pollutants have been controlled and the environment in some areas has improved.”

But the trend of severe pollution across the country remained unchanged as control efforts had been largely offset by emissions from further development.

“In the light of the current situation of growth, it is already an incredible achievement to maintain a relatively stable environmental quality,” Mr Wu said on the sidelines of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

With the mainland’s gross domestic product expanding at about 10 per cent a year, various energy-intensive and heavy polluting industries were growing fast – including chemical, metal and electricity production – and the increase in the amount of discharge was huge, he said.

The poor implementation of a mechanism to hold officials more accountable for pollution also hampered Beijing’s environmental cleanup campaign, he added.

Premier Wen Jiabao said at the opening of the National People’s Congress meeting last week that Beijing had cut levels of acid-rain-causing sulfur dioxide and chemical oxygen demand (COD), a measure of water pollution, for the first time in years.

The mainland also reported less energy consumption per unit of GDP last year, which was cited by Mr Wen as a major achievement in coping with the country’s pollution.

Mr Wu acknowledged that last year’s progress was far from enough to honour commitments by the premier two years ago that the mainland would cut energy consumption by 20 per cent and reduce air pollution by 10 per cent by 2010.

But he said elevating the environmental watchdog to a Ministry of Environmental Protection was encouraging given widespread doubts about Beijing’s ability to tackle pollution and meet its own commitments for a “green” Olympics.

“It is a milestone in the history of China’s environmental protection and it ushers in a new era for our pollution-control efforts,” he said.

Mr Wu said Sepa’s promotion to ministry status would give the largely toothless watchdog a bigger say in the State Council and help it fight local governments obsessed with economic growth.

Sepa has often blamed its limited power for its failure to tackle local protectionism, powerful interest groups and other central government agencies.

The much-anticipated green GDP project was a case in point, Mr Wu said.

The project, aimed at calculating the ecological cost of the country’s sizzling economic growth, was shelved because of strong local opposition and bureaucratic wrangling shortly after the Communist Party’s national congress last year.

“We will be in a much better position to promote green GDP accounting and tackling the differences with other ministries,” he said.

Despite saying that controlling pollution remained an arduous task, Mr Wu said his confidence in achieving environmental improvement had been greatly boosted by the elevation, as well as the government’s increased spending in the past few years to install facilities to clean up air and water pollution.

“You don’t need to worry about pollution,” he said. “We have a [political] system … that is particularly good at dealing with difficult tasks.”

Mr Wu said the government had yet to work out a plan to compensate provinces neighbouring Beijing for their pollution-cutting contributions to the Games.

“Hosting the Olympics is a national event and it is an obligation for other regions to contribute,” he said.

Diesel Exhaust: It Can Affect The Way Our Brain Works

13 March 2008 – WDDTY

Diesel exhaust from heavy lorries can affect the way our brain works. Researchers have finally discovered that tiny particles from diesels change the way our brains function, although it’s not clear if they can impair our abilities.

The effects – as measured on special brain-monitoring equipment – occur within 30 minutes of exposure to the particles.

Until this study was carried out, scientists didn’t know if the particles had an effect, although they knew that particles can reach the brain.

To find out, they wired up 10 volunteers, half of whom were exposed for one hour to fumes, and who were monitored during the trial and for an hour afterwards. They discovered a significant alteration in brain activity within 30 minutes, and which increased during the hour following exposure.

Although the pollutants may have a potential effect on the central nervous system, the researchers were unable to figure out if this was happening, or if they were affecting our abilities in any way.