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Another time, another scary air story

Beijing Games competition venues in the Olympic Green were easily seen from across town on Tuesday.

It was two weeks before the 1984 Los Angeles Games and civic leaders were holding their breath because the City of Angels was stuck in the middle of what turned out to be 21 straight days of first-stage smog alerts.

Fearful that the Games would turn into a civic embarrassment, Los Angeles civic officials petitioned Orange County to buy into voluntary smog reduction efforts. The string of smoggy days subsequently broke, and everyone was able to breathe easier during the Los Angeles Games.

Here's what the Los Angeles Times wrote in a July 13, 1984, editorial when it appeared that the smog might not clear in time for the Games:

A smog-beset Los Angeles Olympics? That has always been a possibility, and one that organizers of the Olympic Games prudently planned for in scheduling some of the more strenuous events. Still, as Southern California endures its most prolonged period of smog in 10 years, concerns mount about air pollution during the Olympics, now just two weeks away. What can be done to reduce it?

Possibly quite a bit, given public cooperation and some luck with the unusual atmospherics of the Los Angeles Basin.  The cooperation, long since requested of more than 4,000 businesses and industries would take the form of altered or shortened work hours, changes in production schedules and greater use of car pools to cut commuter traffic -- all aimed at lessening the volume of pollutants that typically are discharged into the air.

Air quality in Southern California has improved steadily in recent years, thanks to stricter auto-emission controls and tougher standards on stationary pollution sources.  The Olympic Games, though, are likely to see a sudden jump in the number of vehicles on the road, and that will make a normal problem abnormal.  All the more reason why voluntary efforts to reduce pollution are important. The issue isn't just one of local pride, but of the comfort and in some cases the well-being of everyone who lives here. Individuals and businesses that haven't thought about doing anything different to cut back on air pollution during the Olympics have the responsibility to think again.

And here is what the China Daily newspaper reported today as Beijing struggles to clean up its air before the Games begin on Aug. 8:

Beijing finally cooled on Tuesday as a brief heavy shower embraced the city around noon after a hot and humid week. The rain, though lasting only 10 minutes, will hopefully help restore confidence in the city's air quality, according to Guo Hu, Beijing Meteorological Observatory director.

"The rare lack of rain and wind to blow away accumulated emissions contributed to the city's substandard air quality," he said, admitting a number of days had failed to meet the local standard for good air quality despite the capital's car control measures.

"The temperature and humidity will gradually drop and we will have better air quality and more comfortable weather in August."

Strong winds and a rainstorm on Tuesday did clear the air, but a PhilCam photo today showed that some of the haze had returned.

-- Greg Johnson

Photo: Air quality in Beijing on Tuesday was dramatically improved, and competition venues in the Olympic Green were easily seen from across town. Credit: Greg Baker / Associated Press

 
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