34th Beijing Marathon Marred By Smog

Nov 13 2014 0 Comments November 2014

Image of a sign for a 'Pollution Free Zone' against a green fiel
Nearly 30,000 runners began the 34th Beijing Marathon at Tiananmen Square on the 19th October and many of them were wearing masks in an effort to try and combat the awful smog which filled the air.  Runners were given sponges to wipe off the grime while running.
On the day before the marathon, the Chinese Athletic Association and the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Sports said “there might be light or moderate smog.”  They recommended that competitors decide whether or not they were fit enough to run and also suggested that older competitors didn’t run at all. Believe or not, the conditions were better this year than last year, Beijing resident Nick Holt commented, “but it was still very polluted.”   The skyline was blurred with skyscrapers melting into the smog. Perhaps runners should also have been given high visibility reflective vests or reflective belts as part of their compulsory running gear!  One British runner pulled out of the race after 10 kilometres after he saw the filth on his mask.  Chas Pope said, “it felt pretty ridiculous since we are meant to be running for health and fitness.” Many of the world’s top long distance runners did not participate in the marathon because of the polluted air.  However, the awful conditions did not stop Ethiopians, Girmay Birhanu Gebru and Fatuma Sado Dergo from winning the men’s and women’s races. The World Health Organisation says that 25 micrograms of particulate matter (PM) per cubic meter is a healthy level.  On the 19th October, the monitoring station on the roof of the US Embassy indicated the figure was 344 micrograms per cubic meter.  Even the government in Beijing told the elderly, sick and infirm and young children to stay indoors and not participate in any outdoor activity.  However, the government would not cancel the marathon, as they said too many people had travelled from within China and from the rest of the world, to cancel it at such a late stage.
Runners described how the air smelt like burnt coal.  “On a normal day, nobody would run in such conditions,” said Beijing resident and participant Lui Zhenyu, “but the event is happening today, so what can we do?” China’s rapid urban growth has led to air which is laden with fine particulate matter.  Coal and wood are used extensively in factories and homes, and more and more people are driving cars; all of these factors contribute to the heavily polluted air.  This air contains microns of carbon, nitrates, sulphate and ammonia, all of which go into the lungs and are able to pass into the bloodstream causing diseases like cancer and emphysema.
In March this year, China’s Premier Li Keqiang “declared war on pollution.”  Li spoke at China’s Annual Parliamentary Meetings and said that pollution “is nature’s red-warning light against the model of inefficient and blind development.  We must strengthen protection of the ecological environment and resolve to take forceful measures.”  As part of the government’s plans, there are plans to close 50,000 coal furnaces, reduce exhaust fumes and aggressively follow alternative energy sources. Funding these changes could cause problems for the government and there have been suggestions of increasing water and electricity costs for people who dwell in polluted cities, thus encouraging them to use less of both commodities.


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