Some people erroneously, since the U.S. water supply system is actually cleaner than most bottled waters, buy bottled water to avoid contaminated water. Unfortunately, there’s no way to buy bottled air. And in Beijing, air pollution is a real threat.
Last time there was a major smog outbreak in Beijing, I wondered if the air would present a health hazard to the 2008 Olympians. I didn’t blog about it because I felt that it was too deep into tin-foil helmet territory (even for me). Turns out I wasn’t so crazy after all:
To protect the athletes, Mr. Wilber is encouraging them to train elsewhere and arrive in Beijing at the last possible moment. He is also testing possible Olympians to see if they qualify for an International Olympic Committee exemption to use an asthma inhaler. And, in what may be a controversial recommendation, Mr. Wilber is urging all the athletes to wear specially designed masks over their noses and mouths from the minute they step foot in Beijing until they begin competing.
His multipronged strategy could give the United States team an advantage over teams from less-prepared countries. But the plan has a downside: it runs the risk of offending the host country, creating political tension.
You might think this is a bit of an overreaction, but here’s some testimony from some athletes who have competed in Beijing recently (italics mine):
Some athletes who competed in Olympic test events last year complained that the foul air made it difficult to breathe and caused upper-respiratory infections and nausea. Colby Pearce, 35, an Olympic hopeful in track cycling from Boulder, Colo., said he saw smog floating inside the velodrome in Beijing. His throat became scratchy and he developed bronchitis, he said, because of air pollution.
“When you are coughing up black mucus, you have to stop for a second and say: ‘O.K., I get it. This is a really, really bad problem we’re looking at,’ ” he said.
The United States boxing team, while competing in China last month, ran in the hotel hallways instead of on the streets because the air was “disgusting,” said Joe Smith, the team manager.
….United States triathletes wore masks in China last September, but removed them before competing. They stepped off the bus looking like a group of incredibly fit surgeons or, as one triathlete put it, a gathering of Darth Vaders.
No other teams were wearing masks. Some opponents snickered.
“You do look kind of silly wearing it,” said Jarrod Shoemaker, 25, of Sudbury, Mass., who had competed in Beijing twice before. “But I wore it before the race this time, and I didn’t feel burning in my throat afterward. I could still taste the grit on my teeth, but I could actually talk and breathe. That wasn’t the case in other years.
“For now, it looks like we’re the ones with a huge advantage. We want to keep it that way.”
And here’s what a smoggy day and a clear day looks like:
I never thought the Olympics would be a health hazard. I don’t want the Olympics to be ‘smogged out’, because it would be dangerous for the athletes. But if it were to happen, maybe we would get serious about air pollution.