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Monday, June 30, 2008
NO PARTICULATE PLACE TO GO: Why the Air is So (Ob)Noxious in Beijing (Part III )
Of all the unpredictable-and highly volatile--competitors who will show up for the 2008 Olympics, none are going to be more fearsome than the 3-Hs of Haze, Heat and Humidity. While the latter two are a highly predictable fixture of the Beijing summer, it's The Haze (pollution) that promises to most affect the athletes (and the spectators!). That's because athletes in particular increase their level of ventilation with many track and field and endurance sports-and deliver a larger quantity of pollutants to the airways.

So, as each Olympic athlete no doubt evaluates his or her competition, let's look at the inside story around Haze and why it's the "wild card" no one wants to face during the Games.

The Chinese government, which represents 16 of the "Top 20" most polluted cities in the world, has been working hard to convince everyone that the severe air pollution in Beijing is improving and that it will not adversely affect the health of athletes in the Olympics. Recently, it reported that emissions of three of the most important pollutants, including sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide and particulate matter had begun to decline.

While that may reflect a certain truth, China's overall emissions and associated pollution levels remain very high. And, they promise to grow substantially for many years to come because they are bound to the country's strong economic growth engine and its particular mix of industry and power sources.

Here's The Haze three component breakdown-and why there is absolutely nothing that any competitor can do to control the unnatural forces at work:

1. First, there's NO2 and SO2 (Nitrogen and Sulfur Dioxide) from factory emissions.

China depends heavily on coal as an energy source and has experienced rapid growth in some of the planet's biggest polluting industrial sectors, for example, cement, aluminum and plate glass. Eighty percent of the world's coal demand (for factories) comes from China. Twenty per cent of its emissions come from cement kilns, essential for growing construction needs. And when NO2 combines with oxygen in sunlight and hot temperatures, it forms ozone, the main component of smog. Ozone is a very noxious respiratory irritant that adversely affects lung function and performance. As ozone levels in the air rise, so do emergency room visits and hospitalizations.

2. Next, there's CO (Carbon Monoxide) from vehicle emissions.

China has become the world's third-largest car manufacturer and automobiles have become the country's leading air pollution source, including the 3.29 million in Beijing. Eighty percent of carbon monoxide (CO) comes from these vehicle emissions. CO is harmful and adversely affects performance because it reduces oxygen delivery to the body's organs and tissues. It is particularly harmful to those who suffer from respiratory and heart diseases.

3. And, last but certainly not least, there's Particulate Matter generated from construction dust and diesel exhaust.

Air quality experts calculate that up to 90 percent of deaths from air pollution in China are caused by tiny particles of soot, part of the Particulate Matter (PM) family of solids or liquids suspended in a gas. The biggest contributors in cities are ultra fine, airborne particles of diesel exhaust. Biggest natural sources of PM are dust, volcanoes and forest fires; biggest human contributors are the burning of fuels in internal combustion engines in automobiles and power plants, and wind-blown dust from construction sites and other land areas where water or vegetation has been removed.

PM levels in the air around Beijing--which sits in a basin that, depending on the wind direction, fills with smoke from factories or dust from construction sites or the Mongolian plains-may affect competitors in specific events on a day-by-day basis. PM inflames airways, sinuses, and eyes and can affect health and performance. Increased PM levels are linked to health hazards such as airway inflammation, a decline in lung function and possibly reduced overall longevity.

Speaking of The Haze collective and component effects on Olympic athletes, what about the three million visitors expected in Beijing to attend The Games? Spectators should limit their exercise because of the pollution and smog levels.... especially those with pre-existing heart or lung conditions. Those with asthma should take extra precautions, for example, a pre-trip visit to their physician to evaluate their lung function and devise a treatment plan should symptoms be triggered. Ditto for spectators with heart conditions.

To give you an idea of what athletes and visitors are facing, the following is a pollution level history from four of the past five Olympiads.

*Pollution Levels (micrograms per cubic meter):

Beijing (2008)

Particulate matter 89
Sulphur dioxide 90
Nitrogen dioxide 122

Athens (2004)

Particulate matter 43
Sulphur dioxide 34
Nitrogen dioxide 64

Sydney (2000)

Particulate matter 20
Sulphur dioxide 28
Nitrogen dioxide 21

Barcelona (1992)

Particulate matter 35
Sulphur dioxide 11
Nitrogen dioxide 43

Seoul (1988)

Particulate matter 41
Sulphur dioxide 44
Nitrogen dioxide 60


*supplied by The London Times, February 6, 2008

READ THE OTHER BLOGS IN THIS SERIES

Part 1 - To Breathe Or Not To Breathe In the Beijing Olympics, That Is The Question

Part 2 - Running with the 3Hs: Maximizing Performance and Minimizing Short-Term Health Risks
Monday, June 30, 2008 in Blogs & Articles | Permalink | E-Mail
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