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Beijing Smog Takes Shine Off ‘Golden Week’

Al Guo – SCMP – Updated on Oct 04, 2008

The National Day “golden week” holiday ushered in the predicted post-Olympic deterioration in air quality, with the capital suffering four consecutive days of “light air pollution” up to yesterday.

Smog, the hallmark of bad air quality, has hovered above Beijing since Tuesday, the second day of the holiday, and there is little hope of the pollution clearing any time soon because many of the official measures put in place to combat air pollution ended with the Paralympics.

The Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau said the Air Pollution Index stood at 106 on Tuesday, 104 on Wednesday and 126 on Thursday before dropping back to 108 yesterday. Any number higher than 100 is considered light pollution and can cause breathing problems.

By comparison, the index during the August-September Olympic and Paralympic period was below 50 on 10 of the 17 days of the Olympics and between 50 and 100 on the others.

For the 12 days of the Paralympics last month, the Air Pollution Index was below 50 on two days and between 50 and 100 on the others.

Air quality during the Olympics was aided by a series of government orders that shut down work at construction sites, took about half of the vehicles off the street and stopped production at polluting factories in and around Beijing.

But these measures ended with the conclusion of the Olympics, clearing the way for a return to smoggy skies.

Liang Xiaoyan, general manager of Friends of Nature, one of China’s best-known environmental-protection groups, was not surprised by the smog’s return.

“We all knew what we would get after those temporary measures were dead,” Ms Liang said.

She said she doubted authorities would now place environmental concerns ahead of other priorities, such as economic development.

“Do you want to encourage the development of the vehicle industry for a better economy, or do you want to curb the industry for a better environment? Without addressing such fundamental questions, there is no way environmental protection will top the government’s agenda.”

But there are signs of change. The city announced that from next Saturday every car would have to stay off the road one day a week until April to help ease congestion and reduce emissions.

Ms Liang said that even though her organisation was expecting bigger policy changes, it was willing to push ahead with even small moves that could help improve air quality.

She said Friends of Nature was trying to identify five main streets in the capital best and worst suited for cycling.

The study will be submitted to Beijing lawmakers this month in the hope of encouraging more bicycle-friendly policies.

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