China dismisses pollution mask reports as hot air

 

Suggestions that some athletes would wear anti-pollution masks at the Beijing Olympics were exaggerated, mean reporting by the foreign media, China's Xinhua news agency said today.

Just over a week before the Olympic Games open, a sultry haze blanketing Beijing in past days has conjured up worries of athletes wheezing in sticky air laced with fumes and dust.

But while some Games officials and advisers say pollution is a worry that could demand tougher restrictions on cars and industry, others say the air is fine - if a little misty.

Since yesterday, cooler temperatures, a burst of rain and winds have thinned the haze, but some athletes are nonetheless worried.

Japanese athletes may wear construction masks if the pollution gets bad, a doctor affiliated with the Japanese Olympic Committee said yesterday.

But a commentary issued by China's official Xinhua news agency dismissed such steps as the product of undue fears, which it said were stirred up by foreign media.

"It's understandable that foreign athletes would worry about their physical health, but for this to reach the stage of wearing masks is somewhat exaggerated," said the commentary on the agency's website (www.xinhuanet.com).

"The Beijing Olympics Games are being subjected to mean, even unfair reporting by some Western media. When Beijing has a hazy day, Western media beat this up as Beijing's severe pollution."

Cars in Beijing are already banned from roads on alternate days under an odd-and-even licence plate system and many government cars have been ordered off the roads. Taxis, buses and Olympic vehicles are exempt. Around Beijing, heavily polluting factories, such as steel plants, have also been closed.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said it may reschedule endurance events such as the marathon to prevent health risks if pollution is bad. Tougher steps will come if pollution threatens competitions, Games officials have said.

The city's air quality yesterday was "fairly good," the Beijing Environmental Bureau reported, but measures issued on its website (www.bjepb.gov.cn) showed tiny particulate matter from vehicles, industry and power plants hovered close to "light pollution" in parts of the city.

Polluted days in Beijing can be a shock to visitors. Long-term residents, however, mostly say air quality has improved in recent years.

But recent hot summer days, when an uncomfortable mix of humidity, dust and fumes built up in still air, have also drawn grumbling from locals, and prompted families to keep children and elderly indoors.