Air pollution remains a major concern ahead of next August's Beijing Olympics, the UN said yesterday, while generally giving the city high marks for its efforts to ensure the event will be environmentally sound.
International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Jacques Rogge has said Beijing's dirty air might force some outdoor endurance events to be postponed or moved to other locations.
"Extensive use of coal, the city's geographical location and a growing number of motor vehicles means the pace of improvement in Beijing's air quality is slow. Particularly worrying are the levels of small particulate matter ... in the atmosphere which is severely harmful to public health," said Eric Falt, the official in charge of the UN Environment Program's sports and environment project.
The UN report -- which reviewed environmental issues ahead of the Beijing Games -- found that the average level of small particulate matter in Beijing's air last year was eight times higher than the level recommended by the WHO.
Other forms of air pollution -- sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide -- rose or failed to drop last year following three years of decline, according to the report, which was based heavily on Chinese statistics.
However, "[China has] never committed to reaching those specific WHO standards within the timeframe of the Games," Falt said.
The report was generally positive about other environmental aspects of the preparations, praising the Beijing organizing committee's efforts in waste management, transportation and water treatment.
Solar power will be extensively used at venues and the Olympic village, and organizers have made an "extraordinary achievement" in avoiding chemicals that damage the ozone layer, the report said.
"You have to bear in mind this is the first time Olympics have been held in a developing country," said Khalid Malik, the UN representative in Beijing. "The fact that Chinese authorities have managed to move so fast, so rapidly is impressive. Clearly not everything will be settled perfectly and that's the way life is."
Meanwhile, chief Olympic inspector Hein Verbruggen foresees no "risks or dangers" in the preparations for the Beijing Games.
Speaking at the end of the penultimate three-day visit of the IOC's inspection team yesterday, Verbruggen said he was confident the Games would be of the highest standard even if there was still much detailed work to be done over the remaining 288 days.
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