Clear The Air News Blog Rotating Header Image

August 16th, 2008:

‘One Of The Best Days In Years’

Shi Jiangtao – Updated on Aug 16, 2008 – SCMP

Crystal-clear skies finally emerged in Beijing yesterday after days of competition clouded by sultry and smoggy weather.

The capital basked under bright sunshine and blue skies a day after torrential downpours – just the sort of weather the organisers had been praying for.

Pollution has been one of the biggest headaches for Beijing and a regular source of heated debate among mainland officials, environmentalists and the international media.

Beijing promised there would be clear skies during the Games, but athletes have complained about a mix of sultry, humid and hazy weather and frequent showers in the first week of competition which affected a number of outdoor events.

Air quality improved drastically thanks to heavy rain on Thursday, with the air pollution index, a measure of major pollutants, pronounced “good” by national standards.

The reading of particulate matter, or PM10, a key pollutant resulting from dust and vehicle exhausts, was 17 micrograms per cubic metre yesterday, down from 61 on Thursday.

Yesterday’s PM10 reading, measuring the concentration of particles of less than 10 microns, was the lowest in more than two years, according to the Ministry of Environmental Protection.

“What a nice day,” 32-year-old Beijing office clerk Wang Gang said. “It’s definitely one of the best days in years and I really hope it can last.”

While a PM10 reading of less than 150 micrograms per cubic metre is considered acceptable by national standards, the level deemed safe by the World Health Organisation is 20 micrograms.

Since January last year, Beijing has had just three days when the city’s PM10 readings were below 20.

Despite improvements in cutting pollutant particles, analysts said levels of ozone, which were expected to be high in the summer heat, would be of concern for athletes.

Beijing does not include ozone in its pollution parameters, despite the WHO recommending that it should be.

Beijing has carried out a multibillion-dollar campaign to cut pollution and repair the country’s tainted image over persistent smog since it was awarded the Games seven years ago, achieving some improvements over the years.

The authorities have also made desperate attempts to clean up air in recent weeks, including pulling half the city’s 3.3 million cars off the road, halting construction and closing factories around the capital.

Mainland officials were quick to claim results from the efforts but they appeared to have little positive impact on the city’s smog-plagued air in the first few days of the Games.

The costly opening extravaganza last week was shrouded in a thick blanket of smog and sweltering summer heat.

Officials have admitted, albeit unwillingly, that their effort to cut pollution in time for the Games could not make a substantial difference without favourable weather such as cooling winds and rain.