Despite concerns about China’s long-standing problems with air pollution, the government downplayed its impact. Officially, as of August 23, Chinese authorities claimed that Beijing’s Air Pollution Index (API) had dropped by more than 20 percentage points compared with the same period in 2007. Major air pollutants on average dropped 40%, with nitrogen oxide emission directly related to vehicles down by 61%, and inhalable particulate matters falling 40%. One unanticipated factor that may have surprisingly eased Beijing’s pollution problems, particularly from taxis and buses, was a marked decline in tourism during the Olympics. Compared with the same period in 2007, the number of Chinese tourists dropped by a whopping 47%, while the number of foreign visitors decreased by 7.2%.
Pollution, Exercise, and Asthma
Reynold A. Panettieri Jr., MD, Professor of Medicine and Director of the University of Pennsylvania’s PENN Airways Biology Initiative in Philadelphia, has studied how exposure to ozone, a common air pollutant, may damage cells in the respiratory tract and cause a temporary decrease in lung capacity. Assessing Beijing’s herculean efforts to minimize air pollution prior to the Olympic Games, Dr. Panettieri stated that the Chinese government’s attempts might prove futile. Despite efforts to protect athletes competing in outdoor endurance sports [in Beijing] from air pollution, there is no way to stop winds from carrying polluted air [from elsewhere in China] into Beijing, he said.
Penn State School of Medicine’s Timothy J. Craig, DO, Chair of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI) Sports Medicine Committee, said that Beijing’s stopgap antipollution measures wouldn’t prevent fine particles and sulfur oxide from diesel fuel from irritating the Olympic athletes’ noses and throats. A heat spell with inversion will hurt them even further, he observed. If pollution is heavy, the athletes will experience dryness to the airways, which irritates the epithelial cells and releases chemicals into the airways. Pollen and ozone will amplify the problems, he added.