BEIJING — China on Tuesday confidently predicted that Beijing’s poor air quality would improve by the Summer Olympic Games and said it had reached an agreement with four provinces surrounding Beijing to limit industrial production during the period around the Games in an effort to reduce regional air pollution.
The announcement came after an Ethiopian marathon world-record holder became the latest athlete to say he wouldn't compete at the Games because of pollution.
“We will ensure that during the Beijing Olympic Games, the air quality in Beijing will be fine,” said Zhang Lijun, deputy chief of the State Environmental Protection Administration.
The skies over Beijing have improved in recent years, but haze regularly blankets the capital, and pollution occasionally rises to unhealthy — even dangerous — levels.
The Aug. 8-24 Summer Games occur during a season when winds from Mongolia rarely sweep away the haze, allowing pollution levels to build. Zhang said the city has reached agreements with the neighboring provinces of Hebei, Shanxi, Inner Mongolia and Shandong, as well as the bustling port city of Tianjin, to limit output by cement, chemical and steel factories and coal-fired power plants during the period around the Games. He also said the government has spent about $16.9 billion on “over 200 air pollution control measures” in the past decade, and that contaminants like carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and microscopic inhalable particulates have decreased.
As the Games approach, though, some news reports have said that national teams plan to train elsewhere, arrive at the last minute, and even provide face masks to their athletes to avoid feeling fatigued by the smog. The reports have worried officials of the Beijing Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games, who say some 40 polluting factories in the Beijing area will be closed down by the Games’ opening ceremony.
“The air quality (in Beijing) will be about the same as in most international cities,” said Sun Weide, spokesman for the organizing committee. “We are making every effort to improve the air quality. As you know, China is a developing country. We are doing our best,” he added.
International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge said last August that he might deal with temporary periods of poor air quality during the Games by rescheduling endurance events by a day or two.
Haile Gebrselassie, the world-record holder in the marathon and one of the biggest names in long-distance events, said Monday that he would probably skip the marathon at the Beijing games. He would be a gold-medal favorite if he did take part.
“The pollution in China is a threat to my health and it would be difficult for me to run 42 kilometers in my current condition,” Gebrselassie told Reuters in a telephone interview.
Other top athletes have also said they may not take part in the Games because of the air quality issue. Among them is Justine Henin, a Belgian who is the world’s top-ranked women’s tennis player and the 2004 Olympic gold medalist, who said she would not defend her title in Beijing.