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Last-Ditch Effort And Rain Give Best Air In Decade

Environmental chief says clear skies expected to stay for the rest of the Games

Shi Jiangtao – SCMP – Updated on Aug 20, 2008

Athletes worried about Beijing’s pollution can now breathe easy, as the capital had recorded the cleanest air in a decade thanks to frequent showers and a series of last-minute efforts to clear up the smog, a mainland official says.

The capital had enjoyed five days of blue skies up to yesterday, lifting pressure off authorities who had pledged to present the world with a “green” Olympics.

Du Shaozhong, deputy director of the Beijing Environmental Bureau, said the air quality this month was at its best level in 10 years and clear skies were expected to remain for the rest of the Olympics, which end on Sunday. Over the past 19 days, the city has had 10 days, including yesterday, when its air pollution index was below 50, or considered “good” by the national standard.

Air quality for the rest of the days was “moderate”, with API readings ranging between 51 and 100.

A reading higher than 101 is “unhealthy for sensitive groups”, especially athletes in endurance sports such as marathon running and road cycling.

While meteorologists said downpours had cleaned the city’s air, environmental officials were eager to claim credit for their desperate last-ditch attempts over the past weeks – including banning half the city’s 3.3 million cars from the road, halting construction and closing factories.

“We have adopted much tougher measures to ensure clean air for the Games than any other Olympic host cities,” Mr Du said.

“It shows our efforts to ensure good air quality, especially those contingency measures to cut pollution, have worked well.”

Weather conditions would remain favourable for the coming days, with showers expected tonight and tomorrow. Mr Du was confident that Beijing would have even clearer air towards the end of the Games.

Pollution has been one of the dominant issues and biggest headaches for the capital in the run-up to the Games. The city was still shrouded in a blanket of smog even after the Games began on August 8, drawing criticism from foreign media.

Smoggy skies mixed with sultry heat and high humidity also prompted complaints from athletes during the first week of competition. But the smog lifted on Friday thanks to heavy rain and brisk breezes.

Mr Du played down concerns that the skies would fill with smog once the traffic and construction bans were lifted after the Games, and failed to provide further details. He said the results of the contingency measures would be reviewed to decide what steps would be taken to ensure that air quality would reach a “new level after the Olympic Games”.

He said a lack of environmental awareness among the public still topped the list of challenges in the fight against pollution.

Guo Hu, director of the Beijing Meteorological Observatory, predicted a cloudy day for the closing ceremony on Sunday.

But he said meteorologists were fully prepared to use cloud-seeding technology, which was used to disperse rain clouds on the opening day, to ensure a dry closing show at the “Bird’s Nest”.

A total of 1,110 rockets with 15kg of chemical catalysts were fired to stop showers on August 8, when the four-hour opening ceremony was held.

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