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Beijing’s Pollution a Contentious Foe for Olympic Athletes

Despite efforts to curb China's air pollution, a thick haze swept over Beijing Monday, just days before the Olympic Games begin. Betty Ann Bowser examines the country's pollution woes and the impact on athletes.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Now, another in our series of stories about the Olympics and China's moment on the world stage. Tonight, Beijing's problems with air pollution.

    After several days of clearer skies, a thick haze covered the city today, just four days before the opening ceremonies. Health correspondent Betty Ann Bowser has our story. The Health Unit is a partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER, NewsHour Correspondent:

    Smog has been a fact of life in Beijing for years. It's so bad on some days that locals refer to it as "the fog."

    But even after the Chinese government spent $17 billion trying to clean it, and just days away from opening ceremonies, this is what the sky looks like much of the time.

    On July 20th, the government banned half of the city's 3 million cars from the streets, closed factories, and halted most construction, hoping it would reduce the levels of pollution.

    KENNETH RAHN, University of Rhode Island: Nothing happened. Absolutely nothing happened. And then, two or three days later, the situation worsened, and the level of air pollution essentially doubled.

    Kenneth Rahn is an atmospheric chemist who regularly travels to China to consult with officials on how to deal with air pollution.

  • KENNETH RAHN:

    This slide shows what a blue-sky day can be like in Beijing. If you look carefully down here, in this, we can see your shadow. You can see the shadows of the trees, and that qualifies it as a blue sky day.

    Obviously, there's no blue sky around. Maybe if you look straight up you can see something, but it's not shown in this picture. The point is the blue-sky days do not automatically mean deep blue skies that we in the West are accustomed to.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    So this would be considered a pretty good day for competition by the Chinese?

  • KENNETH RAHN:

    Maybe borderline, but still acceptable, yes.

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