In Olympic Wake, Beijing Sees Clear Air

(AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

(AP) A massive effort to clear up the skies over Beijing for the Olympics paid off with China's capital seeing its cleanest air in a decade, the city's environmental authority said Monday.

The Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau said the improvement in air pollution was mainly the result of special temporary measures that shut factories and banned cars from the roads for the Olympic Games.

The clear weather continued into September, with crisp, clear blue skies offering a rare glimpse of Beijing's western hills normally obscured by smog.

The environmental bureau said in a notice on its Web site that the density of major pollutants was cut by 45 percent in August. It said there were 14 days with the best air quality, "excellent" or level 1, and only one day rated at the worst quality, or level 3. Normally, some months have less than a handful of days with level 1 air quality.

"This is the best quality in the past 10 years," the statement said, referring to the 45 percent reduction.

The city's air pollution was a major concern in the months leading up to the Olympics, but the worries largely evaporated as the games began under relative blue skies.

"Temporary measures to reduce pollution that were put in place in Beijing and surrounding provinces to guarantee clean air for the Olympics played a fundamental role in improving the air during the Olympic period," the bureau said.

Levels of major pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide fell to levels normally found in cities in developed countries, it said.

Beijing typically has air that is two to three times dirtier than in most Western countries. City officials shut down scores of factories, stopped almost all construction and removed 2 million vehicles from the roads for a two-month period that will last from July until after the Paralympics end on Sept. 17.

The vehicle restrictions, which limit cars to every other day on the road based on odd and even license plate numbers, have caused many Beijingers to debate whether the policy could be continued.

But critics say it does not counter the root problem of pollution and will be ineffectual given that 1,000 new cars are added to the roads each day and the fact that a rising number of people can buy second cars. Taxis and buses are also not covered by the restrictions.

Still, 56 percent of the more than 10,000 people surveyed by the official Xinhua News Agency online said they were in favor of continuing the restrictions.

Wang Li, vice director of Beijing Traffic Management Bureau, was quoted as saying by state media on Aug. 23 that no decision has been made on whether to continue the policy.

But an editorial last week in the Beijing News newspaper said a continuation of the policy faced many challenges, especially from car owners and government officials reluctant to give up their freedom to drive.

"Whether people will stand for a continuation of the restrictions is a test of how socially responsible our country's middle class is," it said.

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