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Haze, Smog Or ‘Fumy Mist’?

Haze, smog or ‘fumy mist’? Jury still out on the big day

Jane Cai and Shi Jiangtao in Beijing – SCMP – Updated on Aug 07, 2008

When organisers of the Beijing leg of the Olympic torch relay limited each of yesterday’s 433 torch bearers to about 30 metres, it may have been in the interests of their health.

For the third consecutive day, the capital was blanketed in smog, with temperatures in the mid-30s Celsius, raising doubts yet again about whether the host city’s measures to curb air pollution have been effective.

“Standing still in the open air for as little as one minute makes me sweat and short of breath. It must be difficult for athletes to break records,” 35-year-old Beijing resident Wu Hongmei said.

“The smog must be caused by pollution. The chronic problem just cannot be solved simply by temporary measures.”

But the Ministry of Environmental Protection said Beijing’s air quality was in the “moderate” category for the past three days, with the air pollution index reading 83 on Monday, 88 on Tuesday and 85 yesterday.

A reading below 50 is considered “good”, while 101 to 150 is “unhealthy for sensitive groups”. Higher pollution categories are “unhealthy”, “very unhealthy” and “hazardous”.

“The comfort levels people feel are not directly related to temperature or air quality,” Wang Jianjie, deputy director of the Beijing Meteorological Bureau, said yesterday.

“Air quality mainly refers to particulate volume in the air. It may be foggy and the visibility might be low, but it does not necessarily mean poor air quality.”

But Ms Wang and other meteorologists were more cautious in answering the critical question of whether the capital’s smog-plagued air would be clear for the opening ceremony.

Despite cloud cover and a chance of showers, it was unlikely that the ceremony would be disrupted by bad weather, China Meteorological Administration forecasters said.

It will be humid and mostly overcast during the ceremony, with intermittent showers expected between midday and early evening, according to the latest forecasts.

“But Beijing’s weather has been precarious these days, and we will have to follow it closely and update our forecast later,” administration spokesman Yu Xinwen said.

Beijingers and thousands of visitors from around the world would have to endure a “fumy mist”, sultry heat and humidity of more than 70 per cent for the next two days until the threat of rain disappeared at the weekend, he added.

IOC medical commission chief Arne Ljungqvist said on Tuesday that hot and humid conditions coupled with a haze that covered Beijing on Monday were sometimes mistaken for pollution.

“The misty air is not a feature of pollution but a feature of evaporation and humidity,” Dr Ljungqvist said.

The impact of pollution in the capital on the health of athletes and visitors has been a major concern. In an attempt to ease worries, Beijing has ordered almost half of its 3.3 million privately owned cars off the roads, halted construction work and shut down polluting factories.

Beijing’s Environmental Protection Bureau has applauded the emissions reduction efforts, with deputy director Du Shaozhong saying the capital’s three “good” air quality days and two days of “moderate” quality this month were good results given the unfavourable weather.

A researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences predicted the city’s air quality would remain in the “moderate” range for the opening ceremony.

“I think the city’s comprehensive and strict measures to control pollution have paid off,” Xinhua quoted Wang Zifa , from the academy’s Institute of Atmospheric Science, as saying.

Beijing’s weather bureau predicted overcast skies today, but Mr Wang predicted rain, which could clear the smog and brighten prospects for clear skies tomorrow.

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