Thursday, July 31, 2008

A 'blue sky' Olympics?? (Hollow laughter)

The Olympic Village officially opened last weekend, but I gather that some competitors were checking in even earlier. The Australian delegation, for some reason, moved in the weekend before. I imagine the majority of competitors will be arriving over the next few days.

I understand the need to allow some time for overcoming jet-lag and getting acclimatised to the local environment, but...... I really can't see any point in coming to Beijing any earlier than is absolutely necessary.

The air quality is still dismal. (A friend told me today that attempts to clean up the air here have concentrated on the heavier particles and vehicle emissions, and completely overlooked certain potent carcinogens that we have billowing around us. I think he said this was a WSJ story, but I couldn't find it when I just checked. Anyone have a link for it?)

The closing down of factories and restrictions on road traffic have had some effect, but the bulk of the crap in the air is demolition debris (and I dread to think what kind of nasties there are in that; I've seen workmen out at the '50s factory complex at Dashanzi removing huge pieces of asbestos-clad piping without any safety gear at all), sand, and dust. It hangs in the air because the city tends to be relatively windless and appallingly humid during the second half of the summer (and the humidity has been made even worse by the manic over-watering of all the specially planted Olympic 'greenery').

Frankly, I just wouldn't trust any official API figures coming out of Beijing at the moment, however closely they're supposedly being monitored by foreign agencies. It's claimed that the API has been down around 100 recently - but, as this article points out, that's still terrible. Anything over 50 is a very significant health risk. If they got it down to 25 or so, that would still be like mid-town Manhattan in the rush hour - hardly ideal for athletic competition, but tolerable. There isn't a chance in hell of that happening.

But my impression is that the API here has often been well over 100 recently. I trust my eyes: I can tell when the visibility is lousy. I trust my throat, my lungs: I can tell that this cough, this sore throat isn't natural.

It's only rained twice in the last fortnight. The grass is turning brown. Every tree is surrounded by its own little dustbowl. Although the frantic hutong renovation work of the past two months is now over, many of the piles of sand dumped in the street to supply this still remain - uncovered, slowly blowing away. The major building sites were all supposed to be suspending work well before the Olympics (there was talk a year or two ago of a 6-month moratorium! Perhaps that was only ever a rumour?) - but I think the deadline for the shutdown was extended until today, and certainly many of them seem to have been still fully active until very recently. Despite the ejection of most of the city's population of casual labourers, small-scale building operations appear to be continuing all over town.

The humidity is high. And the dust in the air is just appalling.

Don't expect any track & field records to be broken at this Games. Don't expect the Marathon to take place at all.

After last night's (chemically engineered) torrential downpour, the air was - to some extent - 'washed clean': today was one of the best days we've had in quite a while. Unfortunately, the clammy humidity that inevitably follows a heavy rainfall in the summer meant that dust and smog were pretty soon building up again. And even in the early morning, when things were about as tickety-boo as they're ever likely to get here....... well, I don't believe for one moment that the API was down to the low 40s level that was being officially claimed all day long. When I went out after lunch, the air was starting to get pretty caustic again. In addition to being a "No Fun" Olympics and a "Mafan" Olympics, this is, of course, going to be a "Lying Their Arses Off" Olympics.

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