- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 28, 2008

BEIJING — Officials from China’s environmental-watchdog agency pledged yesterday to clean up Beijing’s notorious air pollution — likened by many residents to passively smoking multiple packs of cigarettes each day — before the summer Olympics.

Air quality is so bad that Olympic teams from more than 20 countries, including the United States, have set up practice facilities in nearby Japan and South Korea.

Du Shaozhong, a spokesman for the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau, said air quality has improved for nine consecutive years and has continued to ease in January and February.

“Taking the Olympic Games as an important opportunity, we shall stand fast to our goal and make even greater effort to protect the environment and improve air quality,” Mr. Du told reporters at a testy press conference yesterday.

Wang Jian, director of the Air and Noise Pollution Control department at the State Environmental Protection Agency, said factories in four provinces near Beijing and the adjacent city of Tianjin would begin closing or slowing production in July.

Full-scale production would not resume until after the summer games and the subsequent Paralympic Games ended in September, Mr. Wang said.

Yesterday’s session was the second time this month when government officials had to do damage control over growing worries the Chinese capital will not be able to meet assurances of a clean environment for the Aug. 8-24 games.

Liu Jianchao, a Foreign Ministry official, said earlier this month that air quality had improved but conceded, “We still have a lot to do.”

In an article in the Wall Street Journal in January, Steven Q. Andrews, an American environmental consultant, attributed improvements in air quality recorded for 2006 and 2007 to changes in the methods China uses to monitor pollution.

Chinese environmental officials spent much of yesterday’s session attempting to refute the claims.

Mr. Du denied China manipulated air-quality information.

“This doesn’t happen,” he said.

He said Beijing was continually improving its information-gathering techniques and that a data breakdown from every individual station was publicly available on the agency’s Web site.

Visitors to Beijing often find their eyes burning and breathing labored even on clear days. Longtime residents often liken life in China’s capital to passive chain-smoking.

International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge warned last year that some outdoor events might be rescheduled if improvements weren’t made.

Mr. Du said yesterday that some pollution factors were beyond the control of officials hoping for a glitch-free Olympics.

He said weather patterns were a major factor in pollution control and improving the air quality in Beijing needed “both people’s effort and a little luck.”

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