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July 29th, 2008:

Pall Of Pollution Shows Which Way Wind Blows

Updated on Jul 29, 2008 – SCMP

We were basking just days ago under the bluest of skies and breathing in the cleanest air of recent memory. Hong Kong was picture perfect; every resident would have been proud to show it off to visitors. That changed dramatically yesterday when we experienced the worst air pollution index readings since monitoring began 13 years ago.

The choking air has betrayed any suggestions that efforts to curb pollution here and on the mainland are having a significant effect. To suggest, as some people did last week, that we were clearly heading in the right direction has been put in doubt. The reality is that we still have a long way to go to clean up our environment.

Environmental officers put the poor air quality yesterday down to intense heat and the trapping of ozone above Hong Kong by Typhoon Fung-wong. Southeasterly winds were the reason for the clear and clean conditions last week. Scientists could not say for sure whether anti-pollution measures had had an impact.

Any such thoughts can only have been erased by the record 202 air pollution index reading on the island of Tap Mun. Walking the streets of Central where the index was 150 at one stage was unhealthy. Readings of 100-plus across the New Territories were similarly unpleasant.

Putting the Tap Mun reading down to a quirk of nature would seem a simple explanation. If this is the case, we would also have to say that the weather last week was also merely a peculiarity of nature. Whatever the case, both arguments miss the point: That for all the talk, our pollution levels remain unacceptable.

Pacific breezes pushed away the pall over Hong Kong for a few days last week. If conditions had been still, air quality readings would have been poor.

So much has been said at the highest levels of government about fighting pollution that we expect after all this time to be able to see a difference. But for all the talk, the measures taken have been inadequate. Much more needs to be done. The record reading at Tap Mun was nature’s reminder.

Olympic Smog Has British Girls Seeing Red

Tuesday, July 29, 2008 –

It was more like jolly smoggy sticks for the British Olympic women’s hockey team.

They have been forced into wearing futuristic red contact lenses to protect their eyes from the Beijing’s pollution.

Goalkeeper Beth Storry and her team-mates had suffered from the hazy conditions at their training camp on the island of Macau, near Hong Kong.

Smog is seen by the human eye as a red colour, and the red lenses work by forcing the eye to filter out red light from the colour spectrum – thus presenting clearer vision.

“They’re like sunglasses but as a contact lens so it just prevents glare,” skipper Kate Walsh explained.

“Both the goalkeepers like to wear them and a couple of the girls do on a really bright day so you’re not squinting a lot, which can cause headaches.”

“They make them look like the devil,” head coach Danny Kerry joked.

“They are high contrast but they also allow you to track the ball and one of the theories is that if you’re squinting all the time, it actually fatigues your muscles quite heavily.

“The girls that have persevered with them swear by them.”

Last week Beijing ordered more than a million of the nation’s 3.3 million cars from the roads and closed dozens of factories in a desperate attempt to slash air pollution levels.

There are now fears the games could be overshadowed, almost literally, by the terrible weather conditions.

China’s Low Costs Are On The Rise

07:56 AM CDT on Tuesday, July 29, 2008 – The Dallas Morning News

HONG KONG – We’ve come to know “the China Price” as the mark of the cheapest goods in the world, dreaded by competing manufacturers, irresistible to buyers.

Well, Asia Foundation vice president Allen Choate follows this topic and has some news:

“I think the China Price is gone,” he said over a dim sum lunch Saturday.

Costs are rising among manufacturers all across the Pearl River Delta, which spreads like a fan north, east and west of Hong Kong. Raw materials and energy prices are up. Taxes are up, thanks to a Chinese government decision to take away preferences for exporters.

The minimum wage rose by a third on July 1. Enforcement of anti-pollution rules is starting to bite.

For the hundreds of thousands of apparel, footwear and consumer electronics buyers who have loved the Pearl River Delta, the bloom is off the romance. For many years, this region brought lower prices to American stores. Now it’s bringing inflation.

Myron “Mike” Ullman, chairman of both J.C. Penney Co. and the National Retail Federation, saw this firsthand on a recent swing through Asia.

Mr. Ullman expects Penney can hold the line on price hikes, but other retailers won’t be so lucky.

“What’s been good news for a long time now is going to be realistic news,” he said.

“Costs are going up. We think apparel at the cost level, not retail, in the first half of ’09 will go up 8 percent for the industry.”

Inflation hawk and Dallas Federal Reserve Bank President Richard W. Fisher says retailers are telling him that Chinese goods are rising in price from 5 to 10 percent.

“Our labor unions were cowed by the fact that cheap stuff at very, very low prices was coming out of China. But their wage rates are increasing at a very, very fast rate,” Mr. Fisher said.

It’s not just the Pearl River Delta. Manufacturers spreading up the Yangtze River from Shanghai are also facing rising costs.

“There’s a labor shortage in the Yangtze River basin,” Mr. Fisher said. “That’s an arresting statement.”

Coming on the heels of higher prices for food and energy, price hikes from China are bad news for American consumers. But this is also a shift in the global economy.

China’s rapid economic growth was built on a seemingly endless supply of inexpensive workers. More than 75,000 Hong Kong manufacturers built factories in the Delta to take advantage of cheap labor and land. Tens of millions of migrant workers – often single women – have poured into the Pearl River Delta over the last 30 years looking for factory jobs.

One result was “the worst excesses of capitalism” in a communist country, said Geoffrey Grothall, editor of the Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin. Sweatshops. Child labor. Employers who confiscated wages for decrepit dormitory housing or skipped town without paying employees anything. Pollution and unsafe working conditions.

After several years of this, workers stopped putting up with these conditions. The flood of migrant workers slowed. Employee turnover in many factories rose to 75 percent a year. Many shops were hit with wildcat strikes, and labor rights campaigners publicized the worst excesses through the Chinese media and international consumer awareness campaigns.

These have always been factories operating on thin margins, however, and the rising value of the Chinese currency (up 18 percent against the dollar) has had a major impact on exports.

The Chinese government is now pushing employers toward collective bargaining with their workers. The new minimum wage is 1,000 yuan a month, or about $130. Chinese smog and water pollution are an international embarrassment that’s beginning to get some attention.

“They’re trying to move up the value chain” to more advanced manufacturing and services, Mr. Choate said. Meanwhile, some of the shoe and apparel makers are leaving for cheaper places such as Vietnam.

Hong Kong Chokes In Pollution As Horses Arrive

29 Jul 2008 04:19:08 GMT – Source: Reuters – By James Pomfret

HONG KONG, July 29 (Reuters) – Hong Kong choked in a thick, hot blanket of air pollution on Tuesday with the city gearing up to host Olympic equestrian events, prompting one leading riding nation to bemoan the less than ideal conditions.

With the first equestrian horses having arrived over the weekend and settling into their stables, the exceptionally smoggy weather threatened embarrassment for Hong Kong which has spent $150 million building state-of-the-art facilities and been at pains to play down the risk posed from sub-tropical heat and humidity.

On Monday, the city recorded its highest ever air pollution index (API) reading of 202 on a remote island for a brief period, while in Shatin, where the core Olympics events will be held, the level hit 173 with the general public advised to reduce physical exertion and outdoor activities.

The top-ranked German equestrian team which flew all 14 of their Olympics horses to Hong Kong over the weekend said the poor weather conditions in the former British colony weren’t ideal and a far cry from the usual pristine environment of European events.

“I think it’s very difficult for the horses and for the riders too, they have to acclimatise,” said Reinhard Wendt, the chef de mission for the German equestrian team which includes gold medal contenders Isabell Werth and Ludger Beerbaum.

“We can see how the horses and riders feel. But we don’t know if it’s from the heat or the humidity or the dirty air. We are not used to such circumstances, and the feeling is not so good at the moment,” Wendt told Reuters.

Others teams played down the impact.

“We have no concerns,” Dutch chef d’equipe Mariette Sanders told Reuters. “Okay, it was quite hazy yesterday but there were no problems for us.”

At the Shatin equestrian hub, the air pollution index had dropped substantially from the high reading on Monday.

A spokesperson for the Equestrian Company which is organising the equine events said in a statement that “the condition of all the horses was being very carefully monitored and there was no cause for alarm concerning the horses’ welfare”.

The spike in pollution comes amid a bout of unusually hot and fine sub-tropical weather. Concerns over the summer heat and humidity however sparked the earlier pullout the Swiss dressage team.

Despite intensified government efforts to clean up the smog in recent years which have yielded some results, air pollution has remained a serious problem, with the city’s iconic harbour and top tourist destination cloaked in a thick haze this week.

(Reporting by James Pomfret; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Beijing Smog Awful: Dutch Coach

Posted Tue Jul 29, 2008 7:40am AEST

The Netherlands’ Olympic football coach has described the smog in Beijing as “awful” as his team prepared in Hong Kong for the Games next month.

Coach Foppe de Haan said his side had trained in a special gym back home to prepare them for the hot and humid conditions in Hong Kong and mainland China, but he admitted there was no way of replicating the smog.

“That’s a problem,” de Haan said at a press conference ahead of a four-team pre-Olympic tournament where the Dutch are expected to prove why they are one of the favourites for gold in Beijing.

“I heard today if you are trying to look at the Olympic stadium (in Beijing), you can’t see it from 500 metres. It’s awful, I think.”

But de Haan said their team doctor had told him the players would adapt.

“The doctor told us if you spend five days there it will no longer be a problem because you get used to it.

“The doctor also said even if you don’t have asthma there in Holland you can have it here. But that’s no problem and we can handle it.”

The Netherlands play Cameroon on Wednesday, followed by Ivory Coast on Saturday.

The fourth team competing is the United States.


Is The Hack & Wheeze An Olympic Sport?

29th July – Bleacher report

It’s hard to get psyched about an Olympic Games I won’t be able to see.

Oh sure, NBC, ESPN, TSN, CBC, and dozens of other television networks across the globe will have the games covered like a jimmy hat, but that doesn’t mean we’ll actually “see” the event.

I’m not sure the athletes will either.

On any given day in Beijing, air pollution levels are five times what the World Health Organization deems safe. Living in Beijing is tantamount to being hot-boxed in a 1979 Toyota Corolla only the smoky haze is far less enjoyable, man.

The Beijing Olympic Committee and the city of Beijing itself have tried all kinds of things to clear the air including shutting down close to 150 gas stations. Just last week, the city ordered half of all private vehicles off the road.

It didn’t work.

Organizers has promised a green games but at this point, if they want to keep their promise, they’ll have to bring in Dark Helmet and President Skroob’s Mega-Maid to suck the smog and soot right out of the atmosphere.

Beijing isn’t the only city involved in these games. Hong Kong is too, and that city is no better off.

Home to the equestrian events, Hong Kong recorded its worst ever pollution levels this week, less than two weeks until the opening ceremony. Horseback riding in a thick fog only works if you’re planning to surprise the enemy camp in an early morning raid.

It would appear this year’s must have Olympic accessory is an air mask, and Japanese athletes are considering it. These masks are supplied to construction workers in that country for burly men who deal with concrete dust and dirt on a daily basis.

Lean Olympians are going to have a hard time to pull off the look, but other countries are also looking in to the idea.

Some aren’t even bothering. The Australian delegation is allowing its athletes to withdraw from any event if they feel their health will be put at risk by the acrid, exhaust fumes spewing from the factories scattered all across China.

Australia won’t even be at the opening ceremonies because of the pollution, leaving an awkward space between Aruba and Austria and adding yet another punch to an already puffy black eye for the host country.

One has to wonder, will they even light the Olympic flame? How much pollutants will that spew in to the air?

What will save Beijing is rainy weather. The haze enveloping Beijing like a shroud finally lifted with rainy weather having moved in to the area but then, who wants a rainy Olympics? It dampens the spirit both literally and figuratively.

So, yes, NBC will have wall-to-wall coverage of the games, ESPN SportsCenter will have highlights ad nausea, in high definition no less.

As far as I’m concerned, however, these games will both suck and blow.

Aussie Athletes Allowed To Pull Out If Smog Hurts

Herald Sun – Ben English – July 29, 2008 12:00am

AUSSIE athletes will be allowed to withdraw from events if they believe Beijing’s smog to be a health hazard.

With Beijing again blanketed in a dirty haze yesterday, China announced it was planning more drastic measures to clean up the city before the Games begin next week.

The Australian Olympic Committee said it was taking the matter so seriously it would not stand in the way of Aussie competitors withdrawing from events.

“For us, the athletes’ attitude to the event is paramount,” AOC vice-president Peter Montgomery said after arriving in Beijing yesterday.

“They will be absolutely under no pressure to compete if they feel uneasy or don’t want to compete.”

But Montgomery added he did not expect any of our athletes to take such action.

“It would be extremely unlikely that an athlete would not want to compete, let me say,” he said.

“Most of the athletes have been training for 10 years for this moment.”

Montgomery warned the pollution could trigger unfamiliar and dangerous reactions for the athletes.

“There is also the possibility people may, under severe pressure, develop symptoms they have not had in the past,” he said.

“We think that is unlikely but our doctors have been all over this for our entire team.

“It will be a day-by-day sort of situation.”

The AOC policy comes after a Herald Sun survey of Australia’s Olympians found one in three had concerns about Beijing’s pollution.

But AOC secretary-general Craig Phillips said Australia might gain an advantage from Beijing’s cocktail of smog, heat and humidity as our team had prepared more thoroughly.

“We have done a lot on air quality, but also on heat and humidity,” Phillips said. “We have our recovery centre, ice vests and other measures.

“Also, a lot of our sports prepared for the heat changes, getting into northern Australia and going into South-East Asia in their training.

“We know most other countries are not doing it.”

China’s Olympic pollution crisis was not just in Beijing.

Equestrian horses had to exercise under filthy skies in Hong Kong yesterday.

But Beijing environmental officials said they were ready to implement an emergency plan to take 90 per cent of the city’s cars off the roads.

Only cars whose licence plates ended with the last digit of the date could travel.

Smog Cloud Hangs Over Beijing

AFP Published:Jul 28, 2008

BEIJING – Beijing and co-host Olympic city Hong Kong were today blanketed in smog just 11 days before the Games, raising the stakes for organisers who were planning more emergency measures to clear the air.

Despite years of efforts to rid the Chinese capital of its notorious pollution and a raft of recent attempts at quick fixes, a typically thick haze cut visibility across Beijing to a few hundred metres.

With some athletes already training in Beijing and elsewhere in China, and others due to arrive in the coming days including the US athletics team, the persistent pollution was jeopardising China’s promise of a “Green Games”.

Activist group Greenpeace released a report saying Beijing’s air quality was still well short of international guidelines — and that particulates in the air were twice above levels considered safe.

The state-run China Daily newspaper said the government may ban 90% of private cars and close more factories in a last-ditch bid to clear the skies before the Games start on August 8.

Last week Beijing ordered more than a million cars from the roads and closed dozens of polluting factories, apparently with little impact.

The China Daily, citing an official with the city’s environmental bureau among others, said contingency measures such as the more extreme car ban could be implemented two days before the Games.

“We will implement an emergency plan 48 hours in advance (of the Games) if the air quality deteriorates,” Li Xin, a senior engineer with the bureau, was quoted as saying.

Nevertheless, the Beijing Olympics organising committee said it was still confident athletes would have little to worry about in regards to pollution during the Games.

“With the measures we have taken, we are fully confident that we can ensure clean air for the Games,” committee spokesman Sun Weide told AFP.

“I think it will take some time yet for these measures to show results but, because of the measures we have taken, we are fully confident.”

The pollution woes were not confined to just Beijing, reflecting the long-standing problems across China as the environment has taken a back seat to economic development over the past 30 years.

In the southern city of Hong Kong, which will host the equestrian events, the air quality today appeared to be nearly as bad as in Beijing — and horses preparing for the Games were forced to train in the heavy smog.

The city’s air pollution level was classified as high, although it had not yet crossed the critical 100 mark, the point at which people with respiratory or heart problems are urged to stay at home.

A spokesman for the Equestrian Company, which is responsible for hosting the Olympic equestrian events, said a range of high-tech measures had been employed to protect the horses.

“We have kept our horses in a high-ceilinged, six-star stable,” the spokesman told AFP.

In its report, Greenpeace said levels of particulates, one of the major measures of pollution, were still twice as high in Beijing as recommended by the World Health Organisation.

Jacques Rogge, the head of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), warned last year that poor air quality during the Games could result in the suspension of endurance races such as long-distance cycling and the marathon.

However there have been no specific pollution levels given that would trigger the suspension of an event, and Greenpeace called on the IOC to issue minimum environmental standards for future Olympics.

Alongside pollution, security has become one of the highest-profile Olympic concerns for China.

The government has warned that alleged terrorists from China’s Muslim-populated northwest Xinjiang region were planning attacks on the Olympics.

But the state-run Xinhua news agency denied claims by a separatist group claiming to represent people in Xinjiang that it was behind deadly bus bombings in Shanghai and the southwestern city of Kunming.