Mike the Mad Biologist

Beijing Olympics: Don’t Breath the Air?

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:

Beijingairpollution

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.

Comments

  1. #1 Mark P
    January 25, 2008

    What do you mean “we”? Many of “us” are already serious about air pollution, GWB and his gang to the contrary notwithstanding. I wonder how high on the priority list the Chinese put it.

  2. #2 Thomas
    January 25, 2008

    The Chinese government is aware of the problem and the bad publicity it may cause. Being a dictatorship they can do a lot more to temporarily reduce pollution. Close off roads, forcing people to save electricity so they can turn off some power plants etc. The athletes should be OK, the people who live there not so much.

  3. #3 Dave Briggs
    January 25, 2008

    Just goes to show that today’s tin foil helmet territory can be tomorrow’s accepted truth! LOL! With all this anecdotal evidence it seems to me that the athletes should be able to wear masks if they want. As far as that goes, maybe even during the competition.
    Dave Briggs :~)

  4. #4 Tatarize
    January 26, 2008

    Just two things of which you must beware.
    Don’t drink the water and don’t breathe the air.

  5. #5 Graculus
    January 27, 2008

    Fish gotta swim
    and birds gotta fly,
    But they dont last long if they try.

  6. #6 şişme bebek
    June 8, 2009

    Just goes to show that today’s tin foil helmet territory can be tomorrow’s accepted truth! LOL! With all this anecdotal evidence it seems to me that the athletes should be able to wear masks if they want. As far as that goes, maybe even during the competition